Friday, September 25, 2020

'Utopia Avenue' by David Mitchell

 25 September 2020

Regular readers may remember that I am a David Mitchell completist, having read all his novels. I was looking forward to his new book ‘Utopia Avenue’ (which I read as an unabridged audio book narrated by Andrew Wincott) – the tale of a fictional English rock band in the late 1960s. But I am sorry to say I found this David Mitchell novel a bit disappointing. I think one of the reasons I have always liked his books is that we are almost the same age (he was born just over six months after me) and we therefore seem to share many of the same cultural references. So it was a surprise to find that he had set ‘Utopia Avenue’ just before we were born, making it more of a researched period piece. It was wonderful to return to Mitchell’s beautifully written prose – deceptively simple with hidden depths. And, for David Mitchell fans, as always there are lots of very satisfyingly oblique references to his earlier novels. Indeed, the high point of ‘Utopia Avenue’ for me was a chapter which connects the universe, and some of the characters, from his fantastical epic ‘The Bone Clocks’ (reviewed here in October 2014) both with ‘Utopia Avenue’ and with the plot of his 18th century historical saga 'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ (reviewed here in August 2011). Sadly the rest of the new novel is a fairly straightforward tale of the formation, rapid rise and decline of the eponymous band – focussing in turn on each of its four members and their manager. It’s full of period detail and slightly too full of cameo appearances by a host of real 1960s celebrities. You get the impression that David Mitchell is enjoying weaving these actual personalities into his fictional plot a little too much. And some of the cameo appearances are really quite clunky (with people saying “are you Humphrey Lyttleton the jazz trumpeter?”, “Francis Bacon the painter?” etc). I enjoyed following the lives of the five main characters as a kind a soap-opera but the plot didn’t pull the rug from under your feet in the way some of Mitchell’s earlier novels did.



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