Updated: Aug 25
If you grew up loving live music. If you grew up, not being able to sleep a week before your favourite band were playing at your city. If you grew up collecting albums and the artwork on the sleeves. In short if you grew up in a world of music that has now followed the dinosaur into extinction you will probably love this novel.
This novel is set in the 60’s, a golden era for music. The age of the super band. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Hendrix. It is set in a world where bands worked their fingers to the bone playing gig after gig trying to get noticed by an agent and get that elusive contract which may just catapult them into the world of the superstars.
Utopia Avenue are one of those bands. A group comprised of four completely different individuals, who when brought together as a band, can create magic.
On the drums we have Griff. A Yorkshireman and the least fleshed out character of the four. On guitar we have Jasper de Zoet. Yes, I did say de Zoet, a name that will be familiar with Mitchell fans. Jasper is a bit of a virtuoso with a guitar. On piano we have a folk singer Elf Holloway. And on lead vocals and bass, Dean Moss.
All the characters, with the exception of Griff, have wonderful back stories, and told through the writing of an author like Mitchell they are a joy to read. Mitchell also takes us behind the scenes and unveils just how difficult it was for a band in this era. The constant travel and gigs, playing for little money, trying to get noticed by an agent and get airplay on the radio. It is a delight to travel around with Utopia Avenue as they struggle to “make it big”.
Along the way the band meet many of the famous names of the era. Hendrix, Lennon, Joplin. The first meeting with Bowie is just brilliant.
The book is indeed about the band Utopia Avenue, but as I said before each of the characters have their own narratives, and each of them, again apart from poor old Griff, could make a wonderful novel on its own.
The strength of the novel lies within Jacob de Zoet’s narrative, and readers who have read “Thousand Autumns” will immediately be at home. Jacob is plagued by mental problems. Mental problems in the form of a spirit called “Knock Knock” that resides within his mind and never lets Jacob forget that he will eventually kill Jacob and take control.
Using the characters, Mitchell also explores different themes. Elf is questioning her sexuality in a world whose tolerance is not what we have reached today. Dean is still tormented by the abuse he received at the hands of his father. Jasper is plagued with mental illness and I do believe is autistic.
Like his other books this book fits in with the other seven novels Mitchell has written. I would almost go as far as saying that to fully enjoy and appreciate reading this book, you should have read “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” and “The Bone Clocks”. If you have not the ending will not have the same impact it is supposed to have, and the reader may even feel a little lost with Jacob de Zoet’s narrative, which, again in my opinion is easily the strongest and most interesting.
However, if you have read both novels, you will marvel at what Mitchell has done with Jacob’s story and how he has twisted and twined three completely different novels into his world again.
A warning for readers who did not enjoy “The Bone Clocks”. There is a high chance that if you did not enjoy the magical realism or narrative of “The Bone Clocks” then you will probably not like this novel either. I cannot say more without spoilers, but “The Bone Clocks” plays an integral role in this novel, more so than many have realised.
For fans of David Mitchell, this novel is a goldmine waiting to be explored. You find one nugget, then another, until you realise that you want to go back and revisit the other books as well. I believe that what Mitchell has done with his eight novels is close to genius. 4.5 Stars.
David Mitchell was born in Southport, Merseyside, in England, raised in Malvern, Worcestershire, and educated at the University of Kent, studying for a degree in English and American Literature followed by an M.A. in Comparative Literature. He lived for a year in Sicily, then moved to Hiroshima, Japan, where he taught English to technical students for eight years, before returning to England. After another stint in Japan, he currently lives in Ireland with his wife Keiko and their two children. In an essay for Random House, Mitchell wrote: "I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, but until I came to Japan to live in 1994 I was too easily distracted to do much about it. I would probably have become a writer wherever I lived, but would I have become the same writer if I'd spent the last 6 years in London, or Cape Town, or Moose Jaw, on an oil rig or in the circus? This is my answer to myself." Mitchell's first novel, Ghostwritten (1999), moves around the globe, from Okinawa to Mongolia to pre-Millennial New York City, as nine narrators tell stories that interlock and intersect. The novel won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (for best work of British literature written by an author under 35) and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His two subsequent novels, number9dream (2001) and Cloud Atlas (2004), were both shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In 2003, he was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. In 2007, Mitchell was listed among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in The World. Mitchell's American editor at Random House is novelist David Ebershoff.
Here is a link to a video with David talking about Utopia Avenue - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dp12NTYd1RU