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David Mitchell‘s books seem to alternate between linked short stories and straight-forward novels. His first and third were Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas, and his second and fourth were Number9Dream (which I haven’t yet read, but have heard about) and Black Swan Green (which I have read, um, obviously). The thing they have in common, though — aside from characters who pop up in different novels — is that they’re all the work of one of the best writers working today.
This is a (perhaps semi-autobiographical?) coming-of-age novel about Jason Taylor, a 13-year-old boy in a small, semi-rural English town in 1982-1983 (the book is one year long, from January to January). Jason is a stammerer, who tries his best to keep it from his classmates, along with his love of writing poetry. Like most kids (and, I suppose, most people, really), he just wants to belong, despite not really liking the people he wants to belong with.
The great thing is how Jason expands throughout the novel (sadly, not literally, as that would also make for an interesting — if entirely different sort of — book). The Frobisher Cloud Atlas makes an appearance (as does Madame Eva), and it is around that point that Jason begins to be more comfortable with himself. (It is not revealed if anyone Jason knows has a comet-shaped birthmark.)
If you’re keeping track, this means that Black Swan Green takes place in the same fictional world if you use Cloud Atlas as the base that puts Ghostwritten in the fictional world of Luisa Rey. (And, by extension, Neal Brose who also briefly appears.) Of course, trying to track the reality of the worlds is probably pretty silly as Timothy Cavendish is in both the “fake” Ghostwritten world and the “real” Cloud Atlas world, so it’s probably best if we assume that everything is the “real” world, and the Luisa Rey in Cloud Atlas is a fictionalized version written by a friend/acquaintance of the real Luisa Rey in Ghostwritten. (Given that Cavendish runs a vanity press, this is perhaps not an entirely erroneous assumption; perhaps the Luisa Rey Mystery is written by Rey herself under a pseudonym, or perhaps one of her colleagues at the tabloid.
I suppose all that is really irrelevant to whether or not Black Swan Green is a good novel, but, and I mentioned this before: Novels that inspire this level of puzzle-putting together and thought about them — no matter how silly or wheel-spinning — have definitely got something going for them. So, that’s my recommendation. Read this book as it’s yet another piece of the obsession that David Mitchell seems to inflict upon me.