In much the same way that I described music as having the potential of defining a trip/holiday/journey, books are the same. I will forever remember the Catch-22 induced giggles I got whilst the bus snaked its way through the Andes after we had visited Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru. I will also remember the debauchery and commercialism of Ianapa, Cyprus when I was revelling in the moralist rhetoric of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
It goes without saying, therefore, that a journey reading list will be explored as time passes and we clock up the miles.
David Mitchell’s semi-autobiographical ‘Bildungsroman’ Black Swan Green is the book I always imagined I would write. The narrator (Jason Taylor) tells of his typical teenage life in 1980’s Britain – the Falklands War is dominating the news, peer pressure amongst pupils at school and how you deal with it will define how many friends you have and you question on a daily basis how you could possibly be related to your ‘family’ when you feel like an alien amongst them. Not that I grew up in Great Britain in the 80’s but it explores that period in your life that can perhaps best be described as limbo: no longer a child and a long way off from being a grown up (also known as teenage years I’m told).
The real allure of the story, however, cannot be over simplified to such an extent. The beauty of the book lies in Mitchell’s masterful work of capturing the language of a stammering teenager and his constant battle to overcome and/or avoid the embarrassment (‘hangman’) this causes him. Cast your mind back to Cloud Atlas, in my opinion a masterpiece that deserved the predictable Booker Prize, and it comes as no surprise that Mitchell is able to manipulate language as a tool to effortlessly advance his narrative.
Black Swan Green is a meditation on maturity, on growing up and growing old. It is witty and melancholic, ambitious yet gratifyingly simple. It is the kind of book you don’t really want to start because you suspect that you won’t want it to end. One of those books that you will want to take up in small doses so as to make it last as long as possible. Alternatively, of course, it is the kind of book you might just want to devour on a camping trip, for example.