David Mitchell can create awesome prose and breathtaking fantasy. In Black Swan Green I waited eagerly for either to kick in. It wasn't until I was 100 pages into the book that I realised that this gentle, retro tale about story about a boy growing up in 1980s middle England is just that: a boy grows up.
This is OK so far as it goes. But I found both the story and the telling of it bafflingly clunky by Mitchell's standards. Almost every character is a stereotype, from awkward stuttering narrator Jason to louche temptress Dawn Madden to his eventual love interest, whose interest in him is never explained. The parents' marital and financial problems seem routine. The constant references to the era, from the Falklands to Sinclair ZX Spectrums to TDK C60s to Head and Shoulders to Slush Puppies seem forced. Various characters appear - cousin Hugo, Madame Crommelynck, some rather worthy gypsies - and disappear again. The school bullies are all from central casting. When the plot is resolved by Jason changing his character, I felt as though we'd landed in a children's book - or Hollywood.
It may be that this is all autobiographical, in which case the story makes excellent sense. Otherwise, it all feels a rather pointless exercise compared with the thought-provoking elegance of Mitchell's earlier works.