I’ve recently read two books by David Mitchell and I would say he has jumped from the list of the authors-I’ve-been-meaning-to read to the top 5 of my favourite authors. I am a sucker for wordplay and his books have loads. I also find that he has some very subtle observations and, most importantly, the two books that I’ve read are a lot of fun to read!
This is what James Wood said about Mitchell in The New Yorker: ‘David Mitchell is a superb storyteller. He has an extraordinary facility with narrative: he can get a narrative rolling along faster than most writers, so that it is filled with its own mobile life. You feel that he can do anything he wants, in a variety of modes, and still convince. “Black Swan Green” (2006) is a funny and sweet-natured semi-autobiographical novel, conventionally told, about a boy growing up in a stifling Worcestershire village’.
Here are some quotes that I particularly liked:
‘If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin and say, ‘When you are ready’.
* (This is a bit of a lengthy quote, but simply priceless!)
‘But you have read Madame Bovary?’
(I’d never heard of her books.) ‘No.’
‘Not even,’ she looked ratty now, ‘Hermann Hesse?’
‘No.’ Unwisely I tried to dampen Madame Crommelynck’s disgust. ‘We don’t really do Europeans at school…’
‘“Europeans”? England is now drifted to the Caribbean? Are you African? Antarctican? You are European, you illiterate monkey of puberty! Thomas Mann, Rilke, Gogol! Proust, Bulgakov, Victor Hugo! This is your culture, your inheritance, your skeleton! You are ignorant even of Kafka?’
I flinched. ‘I’ve heard of him.’
‘This?’ She held up Le Grand Meaulnes.
‘No, but you were reading it last week.’
‘Is one of my bibles. I read it every year. So!’ She frisbeed the hardback book at me, hard. It hurt. ‘Alain-Fournier is your first true master. He is nostalgic and tragic and enchantible and he aches and you will ache too and, best of everything, he is true.’
As I opened it up a cloud of foreign words blew out. Il arriva chez nous un dimanche de novembre 189…‘It’s in French.’
‘Translations are incourteous between Europeans.’ She detected the guilt in my silence. ‘Oho? English schoolboys in our enlightened 1980s cannot read a book in a foreign language?’
‘We do do French at school…’ (Madame Crommelynck made me go on.) ‘…but we’ve only got up to Youpla boum! Book 2.’
‘Pfffffffffffft! When I was thirteen I spoke French and Dutch fluently! I could converse in German, in English, in Italian! Ackkk, for your schoolmasters, for your minister of education, execution is too good! Is not even arrogance! It is a baby who is too primitive to know its nappy is stinking and bursting! You English, you deserve the government of Monster Thatcher! I curse you with twenty years of Thatchers! Maybe then you comprehend, speaking one language only is prison! You have a French dictionary and a grammar, anyhow?’
‘Michael Fish said the area of low pressure moving over the British Isles is coming from the Urals. The Urals’re the USSR’s Colorado Rockies. Intercontinental missile silos and fall-out shelters’re sunk deep in the roots of the montains. There’re research cities so secret they’ve got no names and don’t appear on maps. Strange to think of a Red Army sentry on a barbed-wire watchtower shivering in this very same icy wind. Oxygen he’d breathed out might be oxygen I breathed in’. (This caught my attention because I grew up in the Urals, and, specifically, in one of the research towns, which – true enough – until recently wasn’t on the map!)