One more book by David Mitchell that i just finished.
This book is definitely different to his first three books in that it’s semi auto-biographical. David is a stammerer and uses this book as his kind of coming out statement by creating a protagonist, 13 year old Jason Taylor, who is also a stammerer.
Jason lives in the nothing-much-happening-at-all village of Black Swan Green in Worcestershire (wherever Worcestershire is), and the book is written in 13 chapters each representing one month from January 1982 to January 1983.
One of the things that stands out most about this book is the utter lack of politically-correct words and views. Prior to the 1990’s in the UK, we had no concept of political-correctness whatsoever. Back then, children with defects and disabilities were hounded, abused and bullied: i know because back in the 60’s and 70’s i was a child living with a serious, life threatening disability or, as we were officially termed at the time, “invalid”. It’s quite incredible now to think back to how society used to view people with disabilities: just simply dismissed, throughout society, as invalid human beings.
Driven by the invalid terminology with which we were all officially labelled, there was simply no concept whatsoever in the general population of disability discrimination being seen as anything wrong: it was completely socially acceptable. I was 17 in 1982 — the year this story is set — and the way things were back then were very different to today. We had never heard of dyslexia, for example, and children who couldn’t read or write well were just branded as retarded, stupid idiots, segregated into remedial classes and generally shunned. For David Mitchell growing up with a speech defect back then i can imagine that life would not have been easy at all for a 13 year boy — which is what this book tells the story of.
But i have to say, this is an excellent look at life back in the early 80’s in general. The views of the school children that David writes about really take the reader back in time so vividly, especially for those of us who were teenagers back in the late 70’s early 80’s.
So i definitely recommend this book to anyone who was a teenager back then, especially if they had any kind of disability: having been a child with a disability back then i found this book very cathartic. I would also recommend it to all teenagers today, especially those who think that people’s disabilities and differences are invites to be bullied and abused and to be thought of as being lesser people, or even non-people. I would even go so far as to say that this book would be an excellent book for GCSE English: it would certainly make children think about a few things that they should be thinking about. And most certainly, it would be far more socially constructive for the next generation to be reading books like this than reading ever more shakespeare and dickens which have never done anything, at all, to improve our society.
Anyway, well worth a read.
Next up in the story line from David is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.