Friday, 15 October 2021

You've obviously forgotten what it's like

Black Swan Green In Black Swan Green David Mitchell has brilliantly recreated the struggles of a teenage boy who's trying to make sense of the world. It's narrated by the thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor in thirteen chapters, each representing a month in his life from January 1982 to January 1983.

Jason has plenty of problems and several secrets. He manages to hide his speech impediment reasonably successfully, and writes poetry under a pseudonym. In terms of popularity, he's not one of the most admired boys in his year, not in the A-group, but certainly not in the C-Group (1) either, unlike his best friend Dean Moran. At home his sister Julia is about to go to university and his mum and dad are having problems.

Jason tells his story using idioms and jargon common to a boy his age, but he also drops in his 'experiments' with poetic descriptions. There are lots of references to the early 1980s such as TV shows, snack food, and music (remember Oliver's Salami by Elvis Costello?). He also talks about bullying by other kids and teachers, first kisses and sexual urges, but his teenage angst is nicely balanced with humorous encounters with adults. Most notable were Jason's meetings with Madame Crommelynck, the Belgian who champions his poetry, and a laugh-out-loud moment during a scene with his father.

Some adults look back on their adolescent years through a rose-coloured filter and echo Jason's father's thought, "Wish I could be thirteen again". If, like me, you're able to look back through your own teenage diary, you're more likely to answer, as did Jason, "you've obviously forgotten what it's like".

(1) See Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997).

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