Review of Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
Mitchell takes us through the twists and turns of a fictional psychedelic British sixties band on its rocky rise to popularity.
In Utopia Avenue, Mitchell takes us through the twists and turns of a fictional psychedelic British sixties band on its rocky rise to popularity, particularly through exploring its members' crises, joys, fears, and triumphs.
It could have felt a little too abstract to read about the inspiration for made-up lyrics and melody, instrument technique, and imagined musical highlights on stage. (The fictional band focus reminded me, in a good way, of Daisy Jones and the Six.) But Mitchell handles all of this deftly and made me care about a singer connecting with an audience, the cathartic heartbreak-writing of songs, and the magic spark of a performance.
Utopia Avenue contains endless imagined cameos, fictional adventures, and gems of wisdom from real-life musicians like David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, and members of the Rolling Stones, as well as authors and artists--not to mention wild parties, betrayals, leaps of faith, breakups, and tragedy. But Mitchell expertly builds the four band members--Jasper, Elf, Griff, and Dean, plus their beloved manager Levon--into rich characters you're rooting for through their individual ups and downs as well as through the triumphs and setbacks of the band Utopia Avenue.
If you like Mitchell's beautiful, offbeat, sometimes meandering and tough to pin down stories, you'll love this almost 600-page book. You zigzag with characters through bizarre alternate realities at times (whether due to a schizophrenic mind, being possessed by an evil being, or hallucinogenic drug effects). As always, there are references to other parts of the David Mitchell universe, such as: Horology! (It's not included to the extent it is in The Bone Clocks, but it's essential to one character's continued existence.) Marinus and Jacob de Zoet make appearances, and the links to other books felt cozy, like I was coming home to more very welcome Mitchell madness and delving into another layer of his imagination.
Mitchell doesn't provide too easy or neat of an ending, but it feels fitting and left me satisfied. A really captivating book that kept me intrigued throughout.
I received an advance copy of this book through NetGalley and Random House in exchange for an unbiased review.
What did you think?
I really want to talk to someone else about this weird and wonderful book. (Jasper! Elf! Imagined Jerry Garcia conversations!) Have you read it?
This book made the Greedy Reading List for My Six Favorite Summer 2020 Reads.