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Inventory: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell / Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel

January 22, 2011

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
This is an ace book.
Status: Get it

ON IT’S COVER, “Black Swan Green” is touted as “Great Britain’s Catcher in the Rye,” which sent me into its pages with instant skepticism. We’ve been burned on this point before, on just about any novel that follows an emotional adolescent with a distinctive first-person voice. While BSG is undoubtedly not another The Catcher in the Rye it is the first book I’ve read – possibly the first book in history – that bears up under this praise. David Mitchell provides an excellent glimpse at the tender adolescent Brits of the 1980s, the boys who grew up to become Radiohead and Blur, as well as their tormentors who went on the be Oasis.


Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Mantel earned the Booker Prize with this one.
Status: Currently seeking reader

“WOLF HALL” IS ALSO SET IN ENGLAND, but takes place roughly 450 years prior to “Black Swan Green.” Henry VIII is pushing through his divorce and remarriage via (re)formation of the Church of England, a process largely overseen by his unlikely adviser, Thomas Cromwell. Despite being at the center of this British lit, Cromwell’s story feels distinctly American: the poor son of an abusive father, he rises to the King’s court through cunning and aptitude. He is respectful but unbowed by title, humane in his judgments and progressive in the democratization of faith that enables King Henry to have what he wants. (N.B: This interpretation may have to do with my current reading on Alexander Hamilton, another impoverished, polymath upstart who found himself the closest adviser to the head of state during another time of tumultuous change.) The story’s episodic structure and the fact that so much happens offstage keeps readers at arm’s length from Cromwell, who is nevertheless an engaging and sympathetic not-quite-narrator.  The effect is important to the overall effort, but is difficult for Mantel to sustain over 600 pages. That’s the worst thing I can say about this book, the second-worst being that when I finished I felt instantly like I needed to read it again right away.

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