Book Review #32: Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell (2020)

Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐
Title:️ Utopia Avenue: A Novel
Author: David Mitchell
Published: 2020 (Random House, New York)
Pages: 574 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary, British Novel, Music Scene, LGBT
CW: Drugs, Sexual Content, Violence, Mental Illness, Child Death
Link Here

My borrowed copy of Utopia Avenue resting on my yoga pant wearing legs

Hi all! This week I did not read a spooky book, but the next one I have lined up is pretty spooky. Anyways, I finally got my hands on this new release from the library, Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell. British-born Mitchell is the author of a fairly well-known novel Cloud Atlas (which side note, I did not care for the movie version). He has written several other popular novels over the years, and Utopia Avenue is his latest release.

My Dutch grandfather used to say, ‘If you don’t know what to do, do nothing for eight days’, Dean asked ‘Why eight?’, ‘Less than eight is haste. More than eight is procrastination. Eight days is long enough for the world to shuffle the deck and deal you another hand’” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

Utopia Avenue follows the rise of a fictional psychedelic, folk-rock band by the same name. Based out of Britain, the band consists of four very different persons: folk singer and higher-brow front woman and pianist Elf Holloway, demon struggling blues-style bass guitarist Dean Moss, psychologically troubled and talented guitarist Jasper de Zoet, and rough-and-tough Yorkshire drummer Peter Griff or ‘Griffin’. Their adventures start from very different styles and beginnings to a masterful partnership and family found in each other. The band is fictional, but several of the characters mentioned are based on real persons in the 60s music/art scene. The story and vast dialogues are filled with art, music, drugs, mental illness, love, family and of course, psychedelic tropes and ideas of the 1960s.

… For a brief spell, we share a stage. Other are coming to kick us off. But while you’re here, write yourself a good part. Act it well…. There’s nothing else to say because there’s nothing more to say” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I felt invested in the counterculture of 1960s Britain, and how it’s youth were changing and forming music at the time. Mitchell does a great job of immersing the reader in the story and characters. The contemporary style of storytelling also really emphasizes the trippy and imaginative feel of this novel. This is, admittedly, the first novel I’ve read by Mitchell, but I’ve heard a lot about him. As I kept reading, I felt like I had no idea what to expect next. I didn’t think this book was absolutely amazing, but I was invested in the demanding and sensory prose. The way he brings the reader into the music scene during this time, and makes them feel like they’re apart of what’s happening was my favorite part.

Your best teachers aren’t always your friends. Sometimes your best teachers are your mistakes” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

But I do have to say, this book was super long. I haven’t read a book this verbose in a while. It honestly felt like I was reading Charles Dickens at certain times, like some passages seemed so unnecessarily lengthy. But of course, the story itself was long and spread over a certainly wide period of time, I believe. Plus there were a lot of flashbacks, and rapid back-and-forth between current and past moments for each main character, which only added to the contemporary feel.

‘It’s your body,’ says Elf, ‘Your news. Your timing’… ‘If that’s feminism’ says Imogen, ‘sign me up’…’It’s not feminism. It’s just… true’” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

Why should you read this book? If you enjoy contemporary but historical fiction novels about 1960s British psychedelic rock bands that challenges societal notions and difficulties, this is the book for you. It really was good, but I don’t think this author is as fantastic as everyone says it is. He’s definitely talented and invested so much care in crafting his stories, but that’s all he is, admirable and celebrated for his efforts. I would have also liked to see more involvement and focus on other side characters and one of the main band-mates (I won’t say who, but it’s not the bassist this time..), instead of only the four band-mates, and at rare times a few of their family members.

Art is memory made public. Time wins in the long run. Books turn to dust, negatives decay, records get worn out, civilizations burn. But as long as the art endures, a song or a view or a thought or a feeling someone once thought worth keeping is saved and stays shareable. Others can say, ‘I feel that too’” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

(The above quote is my favorite, by the way) I give this book a 3 out of 5!


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