Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Black Swan Green – David Mitchell

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 20, 2010

On a late night commute from office, I found myself all alone in a London tube compartment. Alone, not so much on account of lack of co-travellers but on account of lack of any reading material on me. I did what I usually do: wander along the length of the compartment to scavenge any old news papers or magazines to suffice the journey. My eyes fell on a shiny looking two pager left on one of the seats. I picked it up for reading thanking my stars. The article was about an ineluctable psychic phenomenon in which 34 people in a small hamlet in Sweden bought a yellow Beetle on the day of its launch from the same dealer without knowing that others were also doing the same. The village, the article mentioned, did not have more than 100 houses. The author attributed it to an unknown but palpable psychic phenomenon. It did sound a little eerie. Something very similar on a smaller scale happened to me on my reading front. NewYorker, NY Times and Paris Review — all carried reviews, articles and interviews about the writer David Mitchell and his work in a span of two days. It did spook me mildly because Mitchell is not a novice in literary cirlces and what was happening started to suggest something beyond sheer co-incidence – either all the writers colluded to produce coverage that is worthy of Mitchell‘s talent or that each of these writers found Mitchell‘s literary talents on their own and decided to express it all at the same time. Whatever the phenomenon, my own curiosity was stoked sufficiently enough to order his books for readingand I began with Mitchell’s “Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green”  is essentially  a book about adolescence, of pain and fun of growing up, self discovery, becoming aware of the ways of the world. More importantly it is also about finding ones way and place in the world in a manner that is largely natural and mostly inevitable. The story is narrated by Jason Taylor – the stuttering protagonist and a budding poet who will never allow the reader to forget of his stutter (aka hangman) in a gentle, at times humorous but constantly sympathy evoking manner. One gets to witness the microcosmic world of a rural England adoloscent of the eighties through the eyes of Jason Taylor which is absorbing and moving. Unlike the angsty Holden Caulfield  of  “The Catcher in the Rye” or the diminutive Jem Finch of “To Kill A Mocking Bird“, Jason is much more aware child who suffers in the hands of his classmates due to his stutter but manages to put an end to his suffering through a combination of coming of age, providence and maturity. He has the calm equanimity to accept the good with the bad and have a sense of fairness around most of the things he does and that makes him an endearing and memorable character

All adolescents need role models and a majority of the novels that deal with adolescence do provide these role models with an uncanny consistency. While Holden may have a nurtured irreverance to everyone and everything around him, he still has a wisdom giver in Antolini – his school teacher –  whom he likes and reaches out to during his crisis. For a Jem Finch, his father Atticus is a living role model and for Jason it is Madam Crommelynck – who adumbrates a dim vision of what art ought to be and the nature of effort and commitment that an individual has to have to make it relvant to oneself. Mitchell does a wonderful job of painting this give and take that happens between Jason and  Madam Crommelynck. It is my suspicion that this intuitive understanding of a larger vision that provides the admirable stability in Jason despite his age and the difficulties he faces as part of his growing up

One of the appealing features of the “Black Swan Green” is Mitchell‘s consistent and unfailing ability to narrate the story through the eyes of an adolescent. Consequently, every minor and major detail that is germane to a young boy like Jason is depicted making the overall story telling effort realistic. While this dishes out strength to the novel, the real weight provider is the narrative style. Mitchell‘s prose carries it with a verve, flamboyance, abandon and flexibility which makes it a great pleasure to soak oneself in. There is a terrific ear for mimicry and charming ventriloquism. His ability to catch idiosyncratic twangs of his characters and remain consistent with them through the narrative is brilliant

In the personal journey of becoming aware of writers and writing, 2010, will go down as a major milestone for the number of new writers I have come to know and David Mitchell and “Black Swan Green” will undoubtedly be a notable addition to this growing list

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