Mitchell is expert at excavating the seams of loss, ambition and mere chance that lie under the edifice of fame ... The reader is impelled from the first by a kind of rushing, gleeful energy ... Mitchell is evidently enthralled by both the romance and the practicality of music ... The novel’s prose is for the most part consciously easeful and frictionless: it is a supremely readable novel, if the quality of readability is taken to be one which is difficult to achieve and a relief to encounter. It is enlivened by an attentive eye for the particulars ... At times, the frictionless quality of the prose extends to the story itself, so that it is possible to read for several pages at a time without quite feeling that events and characters have landed on the consciousness. The book is most alive and most compelling when Mitchell slips the surly bonds of the realist premise and lands in his own extraordinary imagined worlds ... Mitchell does not castigate or punish Utopia Avenue for their yearning after lights and adulation: he is kinder and more wise. He proposes instead that nothing could be more natural, or in fact more commendable, than acting on the old and common longing to be heard above the crowd, even— perhaps particularly—at the cost of security and sanity.
Not unlike Jasper himself, Utopia Avenue turns out to have been a sort of host for something else entirely. To go further would be to give too much away—not to everyone, perhaps, but certainly to readers of Mitchell’s earlier work ... What it all amounts to is that Utopia Avenue exists on two different planes. Jasper’s suffering, his visions and auditory 'hallucinations'—tragically, pathologically insubstantial to the other characters within the realistic landscape of the book—are, to the initiated reader, quite real, more real than the various historical genre trappings, such as Carnaby Street, or the Chelsea Hotel, or zombie David Bowie ...The sense of supernatural threat, of being pursued, for mysterious reasons, across time, as part of a conflict too large for individual lifetimes to contain: this is the novel’s reality, even as the characters (apart from Jasper) are oblivious of it ... Is this a great writer of unfathomably long vision making a kind of Yoknapatawpha out of the entirety of space and time, or the rendering of something like fan service? Maybe both. Just as the members of Utopia Avenue themselves are the flip side of DeLillo’s vision of rock music and its myth-scaled heroes, Mitchell’s cross-referencing for its own sake could be the more benevolent, affirmative side of our era’s taste for conspiracy, in which everything is improbably connected and there’s a secret pattern that only the enlightened can see.
... reflective, and it dances and trails out bits of dialogue and character development that drift through the air like music, only to be picked up a hundred pages on like the chorus of a song ... Mitchell writes like he’s lived it — as if he’s sat in with the band from its first show to its last. As a writer, rather than a musician, I envy him in this journey. Each chapter is named for a song, and each song is like a diary entry in the lives of these characters ... moves effortlessly back and forth through time and space, creating a conversation all its own, a style that is distinctive to Mitchell ... It is a wonder Mitchell keeps it all together, and though the bandmates certainly struggle with a multitude of tragedies, hiccups and bumps along the way, they each find their own success.
David Mitchell’s groovy new rock novel belts out the lives of a fictional band in such vivid tones that you may imagine you once heard the group play in the late ’60s ... Mitchell — cult writer, critical darling, popular novelist — knows much about the unpredictable currents of fame, and he brings that empathy and his own extraordinarily dynamic style to this tale of four musicians ... One of the many delights of Utopia Avenue is seeing the cosmic dust of genius swirling in chaos before the stars are formed ... Mitchell’s magic chemistry is certain; this band’s not so much ... Mitchell captures the tension between artists and their labels trying to divine the next turn of teen tastes. He re-creates the music shows in all their cringing giddiness. And the pages of Utopia Avenue are a veritable Who’s Who of the era ... Even the syncopated structure of Utopia Avenue demonstrates how attentive he is to the rhythm of human experience.
The joke here—one that will be immediately obvious to Mitchell’s fans—is that a number of these events have already filled a hefty novel: Mitchell’s own The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a work of historical fiction enhanced with supernatural elements, published in 2010. The self-referential winking is not at all atypical ... Utopia Avenue which is about nothing if not performance, looks, at first glance, like a return to Mitchell’s middle period ... With one notable exception, the structure of Utopia Avenue traces a familiar arc ... A lot of Utopia Avenue is so conventional that you suspect Mitchell’s real interest may lie elsewhere ... Far more dramatic is another favorite trick that Mitchell brandishes, this one having to do with Jasper’s narrative, which both provides one of the major climaxes of the novel and exemplifies how badly it goes wrong ... As Utopia Avenue nears its ending, the narrative veers violently and none too persuasively into the supernatural ... No doubt the appearance in Utopia Avenue of vengeful transubstantiating Japanese demons and some conveniently timed Horologist psychosedation will excite some of his fans. Others, who have admired his work in the past but are finding it increasingly unpersuasive, can recognize the sound of a broken record when they hear it.
The overarching plot of Utopia Avenue is one long climb ... a highly schematic structure that doesn’t do the novel any favors ... fortunately Mitchell firmly corrals the novel’s supernatural elements into Jasper’s storyline, leaving the rest of the book to paint a sumptuous portrait of life in Swingin’ ’60s London ... all of these personal challenges and more get tied up as tidily as three-minute pop songs ... The gang seemingly can’t walk into a room without encountering movie stars ... Perhaps life in London at that time really did resemble It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the exemplar of a goofy ’60s subgenre of movie comedy featuring scads of cameos by famous faces. Or perhaps Mitchell hopes to educate younger readers about a historical and cultural milieu he obviously adores. At times, though, he seems starstruck by his own novel ... Since Utopia Avenue—rather than any individual member—is the protagonist of the novel, this makes for a strangely friction-free plot. The band has a disappointing first gig, but it’s all uphill from there, up and up and up, until—poof! Utopia Avenue dematerializes in a rosy cloud, without suffering the corrosion that tarnished so many counterculture dreams ... Despite its flaws, Utopia Avenue is, page by page, a sheer pleasure to read. Mitchell’s prose is suppler and richer than ever, and his ability to conjure a historical milieu he never actually experienced does not falter ... Making your way through this novel feels like riding a high-end convertible down Hollywood Boulevard on the prettiest day of the year while luminaries wave to you from the sidewalks and nothing truly bad ever happens. Of course, eventually all the flower children will become boomers, the designated bad guys of our time, but that’s no concern of Utopia Avenue. As with enjoying any great party, the art lies in knowing when to leave.
It's difficult to convey the pleasures within Utopia Avenue to the uninitiated who enter Mitchell's universe. Suffice to say that unless spoilers get revealed, only the gist of the work can be related ... Car crashes, tragic passings (Mitchell excels at death scenes, premature or final), bleary touring and international hassles, sexist pop-show hosts, and smarmy manipulators all scheme against the three men and one woman ... Mitchell's done his homework. The immersion into not only London but a trucker's stop where ruffled and velvet-clad foppish musicians recharge after being on the concert trail, the wonder and danger of San Francisco's allure as seen through the eyes of members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, the dense terror and drive of Manhattan also appear vividly ... The author examines deftly the ideals which force and beckon the four musicians and their circle to confront choices for good and evil ... His composed, existential view may not please all, but his own Buddhist-inspired contemplation amidst the carnage and ecstasy of this romanticized era reminds us today of the caution needed when messages get blared.
... one captivating page after another, two steps forward and one backward, in this deep and textured classic-rock tale ... This novel is more grounded than Mitchell’s most fantastical work: The fictional band Utopia Avenue gets its shaky start in London’s rough-and-rowdy club circuit just as rock music is exploding with originality and creativity ... Mitchell marvelously brings it all to life by focusing his most engaging storytelling on each band member’s own evolution, along with some experimental narrative and exceptional in-concert scenes. Each song-titled chapter continues the personal trajectory of one band member; song lyrics provide further insight ... addictive reading ... For readers too young (like the author himself) to know firsthand, and for those old enough to remember or forget, Mitchell masterfully captures the spirit of the times and the tenor of its music. Utopia Avenue is a fun and fulfilling read — a 592-page rock ‘n’ roll road trip whose characters and narrative become the song that gets stuck in your head.
There is always a lot of play in Mitchell’s books, and this push and pull against expectations is one way to keep things interesting ... Mitchell is particularly good at making us care about imaginary music ... Do you have to read Mitchell’s other books to get this one? No, not at all. The meta-narrative is just a slim thread in this large novel ... With his huge electric brain, Mitchell has written his own solo scenius, one that draws connections between Edo-era Japan and a distant, post-human-collapse future. It’s a grand project, brilliantly executed and deeply humanist.
... a surprisingly straightforward yarn about a ragtag team of musicians who form a band that is more than the sum of its parts. Because it’s by Mr. Mitchell, the story includes a dollop of the supernatural—and because it’s Mr. Mitchell, he largely pulls this off. But this engrossing novel is really about the thrill of making art at an especially thrilling time, when all the rules for what life should look like and what music should sound like were suddenly up for grabs ... socioeconomic diversity may be improbable in a band, but it is useful for a novelist, particularly one with as keen an ear for the hyperlocal rhythms of speech as Mr. Mitchell ... shifts in perspective, and the sharpness of each patois, do not reach the heights of Mr. Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas ... In this compassionate book about alchemy of spinning art from life and the euphoria of artistic harmony, Mr. Mitchell is clearly rooting for this band ... the cameos are plentiful—and occasionally cringeworthy ... Mr. Mitchell’s recent work as a screenwriter seems to have filtered into this cinematic book. Despite his talent for transcribing the authentic stutters and stammers of spoken speech, the dialogue here often feels sharp, clean and almost implausibly articulate ... instead of an overarching coherence, what comes through is the author’s sincere affection for the people who populate his fiction, and his humble regard for the role chance plays in life.
... a book bristling with pleasures ... Jasper’s story becomes quite intriguing. Yet, there’s something slightly dutiful about it too, as if the cosmology that Mitchell has so patiently created is something he (mistakenly) believes his readers would miss if it didn’t underpin everything he writes ... Meanwhile, the other band members are given their own, more straightforward and ultimately more affecting, adventures. Both Mitchell and the reader have a lot of fun as well, with walk-on parts from any number of real-life musicians ... Taken individually, many of the set-pieces (and the novel mostly comprises them) seem like the old David Mitchell back telling stories purely for their own exhilarating sake. Yet, between them, they gradually add up to an overwhelmingly vivid—and equally exhilarating—portrait of an era when the future seemed likely to be shaped by a combination of young people and music. At the same time, there’s a melancholy sense of the transience of this idealism ... Of course, these are not especially original insights into the 1960s. But then again, original thoughts have always taken second place in Mitchell’s work to his highly original ways of expressing them ... So it is that Utopia Avenue confirms that his real talent—perhaps even genius—lies in finding wildly entertaining new ways to tell old truths.
... a happy book about a happy band ... the narrative features walk-on appearances by many of the great and good of the time...This recurring conceit can amuse or annoy in equal measure, depending on one’s attitude and patience ... What mostly differentiates Mitchell’s foray is the nostalgic aspect occasioned by the fact that all of this happened firmly 50 years ago. Also, rather than being written from one character’s perspective as a pseudo-memoir, Mitchell employs multiple points of view ... The novel is very good at hinting at the difficulties of being a woman in an otherwise male group, or indeed of being a female solo artist, in the late ’60s. Similarly, it also alludes to the vicissitudes of being gay when homosexuality was still illegal. It accomplishes all of this without indulging in the smug, retrospective moral superiority so common in historical revisionism ... Remarkably, considering they were mostly manufactured by their manager, the level of camaraderie and co-operation between the players is almost too good to be true ... It is notoriously difficult to capture the thrill of playing music, much less describe the music itself, in prose, but Mitchell succeeds for the most part, although he does rely on quoting lyrics as much as musical expertise to get this point across. Despite the idealisation of the band’s internal workings, this is an enjoyable read for anyone who likes music and is interested in the period.
... One of the biggest surprises here is that an author who has built a reputation for creating original worlds now seeks originality in a seemingly familiar milieu ... more ramshackle than Mitchell’s earlier works. Some plot elements, including episodes of revenge, jealousy and blackmail, are exactly what one might expect to find in a story of newly celebrated musicians. Mitchell fans, however, will welcome the continuation of flourishes from such earlier works as The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and The Bone Clocks, including the reemergence of characters from those novels and the neologisms that made Mitchell’s previous works such mind-bending experiences. Mitchell’s song may be different, but readers will recognize the tune.
In many ways, Utopia Avenue is the Avengers: Endgame of David Mitchell’s novels ... I don’t think that I can, in good conscience, recommend Utopia Avenue to someone who hasn’t first read at least some of Mitchell’s other works — it would be like telling someone to begin with Anne Rice’s The Queen of the Damned (1988) without first reading Interview With the Vampire (1976) and The Vampire Lestat (1985). It’s possible to read Utopia Avenue alone, but you’d be missing much of the excitement from seeing all the various connections coming together ... For Mitchell’s fans, connecting all the dots is one of the great pleasures of reading his books ... Now, more than ever, it seems vital to examine the various ways that our lives are densely interconnected rather than isolated and separate. Utopia Avenue brilliantly explores this theme against the specific backdrop of the utopian wave of revolutionary protests that occurred in the United States, Europe, and beyond in 1968 — a year (similar to 2020 in certain ways) when it suddenly felt like extraordinary social change might be possible on scales previously difficult to imagine ... Mitchell, never succumbs to despair in his fiction.
It’s a sweeping psychedelic story, an alternate pop history that features a slew of famous and familiar names crossing the paths of our heroes in the course of their ascent. It’s a brightly colored and brutal fable that is equal parts celebration and warning regarding the raw power inherent to music. The pull of creative forces can sometimes be beyond our control, leaving the creator no choice but to hang on tight and hope for the best—a best that is far from guaranteed ... While the book doesn’t necessarily offer the physical scope of some of his other work, in terms of metaphysical scope, it’s spot-on ... It’s an engaging portrait of that particular period, a stylized snapshot of the scene. The hyperrealized cameos from real-life music figures are a delight ... Utopia Avenue evokes the spirit of the ‘60s while leaning into its own vision of the time and place. It’s a deconstruction of the pursuit of fame—the thrill of the chase and the chaos that comes with success.
Since Mitchell is known for his offbeat, genre-bending, postmodern epics, I assumed he would find a new point of attack in Utopia Avenue—so it’s a surprise to discover him clapping so doggedly on the onbeat. Which is to say, this book is not cool and, when you’re writing about the golden age of rock music, cool matters. Mitchell’s project soon reveals itself as a bland, self-satisfied nostalgia-fest that rarely strives beyond cliché. It’s the apotheosis of 50-Quid Bloke collectionmania, all the back issues of Mojo mulched into one 576-page edition. It wants to be a Mad Men-style prestige drama—but it’s more like a tame soap opera made by Richard Curtis that goes wildly over budget ... none of the band rise above caricature. The working-class characters are distinguished by their shonky accents ... Things happen. More things happen. But any poetry or tension is drowned by the excess of detail ... makes you wonder why a novelist with Mitchell’s imaginative gifts wouldn’t embrace the opportunity to be more playful. Perhaps in the end it comes down to wish fulfilment. His pleasure in inventing an entire discography for Utopia Avenue is more than evident; the song lyrics are plausible and some of the band’s live performances feel convincing. But to what end?
Those expecting narrative pyrotechnics to match the phantasmagorical times will be disappointed. The story is beach-book simple ... I spent much of the early part of the book trying to imagine whether Utopia Avenue were any good. What might the group’s music actually sound like? ... This sudden rush of real characters in Mitchell’s make-believe is repeated throughout the book, and not in a good way. Snippets of dialogue provide frequent, unintended comedy ... As Utopia Avenue’s success grows, the band members mingle with ever-more famous characters, ever-more clamorously ... John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Leonard Cohen drift in and out of Utopia Avenue’s rise to prominence in equally clunky, occasionally mind-boggling, moments ... These clumsy attempts at verisimilitude have the opposite of their intended effect, distracting us from the various dramas affecting the members of the band...These are all well-enough described to keep us turning the page, but have a kind of soap-opera relentlessness about them. Mitchell disappointingly shirks the challenge of grounding them in a more sophisticated way in the epochal changes of the time ... There is scarcely any politics in the book, little hint of the social turmoil around the band, whose lyrics are crudely inward-looking and autobiographical, each song prompted by the latest psychodrama. This neglects the fascinating tonal tension of the 1960s, between the era’s idealism — much of it drug-induced, bogus, or both — and its narcissism ... Utopia Avenue’s lightweight ramblings by comparison leave us with little warmth towards, or respect for, the band, fatally undermining Mitchell’s storytelling ... The novel ends with an elegiac note for a newly discovered album by the group, written by Elf in 2020, which acts as a touching epilogue to the band’s brief spell in the limelight. The sense of abiding nostalgia in her words opens an entirely new theme for the book, and might have made a better starting point for Mitchell. His virtuosic vaulting across the decades would surely have served him better than this immersion into a world he has failed to capture.
... highly entertaining, but occasionally flawed ... Prominent in Utopia Avenue is the role of the aleatoric ... With the author’s focus on karmic returns and reincarnations, the chance decisions of a moment really do echo out into a vast and interconnected universe. As with many of Mitchell’s books, the story dips between detailed historical realism and outlandish science-fictional interventions ... We find moving and deftly handled chapters about domestic violence and Sudden infant death syndrome. But we also have a major narrative thread about the disembodied soul of a magical, centuries-old Japanese abbot and a secretive, immortal cabal called the Horologists. The feel of the novel is not unlike that of a Peter Blake collage ... Utopia Avenue runs into problems ... Useful for the new reader but, for the Mitchell fan, it means that the peak of an otherwise gripping arc is largely occupied by a five-page precis of a ten-year-old book—albeit with some important new facts revealed. Moreover, by committing so literally to the increasingly specific metaphysics of his fantastical world...the author robs it of some of its mysterious shimmer ... There is much to admire about Mitchell as a prose stylist, yet his dialogue too often veers into either the expositional or parodic. There is a fine line between a sharp observation and outright caricature ... Mitchell’s most obvious skill as a novelist is for the mechanics of storytelling—his talent is for plotting and narrative pacing, for holding the reader’s attention, building and releasing stress ... local infelicities in the individual books are easy enough to overlook.
This rock ’n’ roll story may sound familiar. But Mitchell’s narrative finesse, impeccable research, and detail-loving prose bring the band and its equally archetypal characters to mostly entertaining life ... It’s the era of album covers, pirate radio, and listening booths in record stores, and Mitchell revels in capturing it all: music and society, high and low, fictional and real, adjectives and nouns ... If rock fans will thrill to the musical references, Mitchell groupies will salivate at allusions to previous novels ... While Jasper’s question 'Am I insane or is this real?' leaves open the possibility of reading these scenes as hallucinations, they nevertheless add to the intertextual fictional world Mitchell has built over the last two decades, which will reward some readers and leave others cold ... the novel itself is strangely reactionary. Conversations between men objectify and disparage women, while women rarely converse with each other, aside from Elf and her sisters. Elf explicitly suffers from the music world’s sexism but is depicted as the band’s compassionate peacemaker. Black women appear only as scenery ... This can all be read as the verisimilitude of the committed historical novelist, for it would be anachronistic at best to write 1960s rock ‘n’ roll London as an egalitarian paradise. Yet Mitchell has demonstrated boundless literary imagination in the worlds he creates. Surely, he could have been more imaginative in reckoning with past mores as he created Utopia Avenue.
A shaggy, sprawling, picaresque tale, with one brief detour into time-traveling fantasy fiction, it certainly has its moments. But it’s also a bit of a letdown ... cameo appearances...feel as though Mitchell expects their names alone to do his character-portrayal work for him. The book is also strewn with allusions to Mitchell’s earlier fiction in ways that feel more gimmicky than meaningful. Mitchell, who was born in 1969, is better when evoking the general texture of the period. And he almost convinces you that this band he’s dreamt up...could have enjoyed minor chart success in the winter of 1967-1968 ... Mitchell’s portraits of Jasper, Dean and Elf are the book’s strongest component ... Levon, alas, is one of the book’s disappointments. Mitchell never really takes us inside his story ... Mitchell festoons the book with philosophical asides that don’t amount to much...and he plays games that may not work for readers not already steeped in the period ... One early passage in the book, where Dean crosses paths with painter Francis Bacon and his boozy circle at the Colony Club, is such a blast that it almost makes you wish Mitchell had focused more narrowly on the plight of an attractive, young, straight would-be rock star navigating Bacon’s world. As it stands, Utopia Avenue feels both overstuffed and incomplete.
Mitchell’s sprawling, engrossing look at the psychedelic era is lovingly rendered, though some of the characters’ tolerant attitudes toward homosexuality seem anachronistic. His fans will appreciate the Easter eggs and a metaphysical interlude; those who enjoy revisiting the 1960s will groove on the cameos from many celebrities of the time.
Metafiction master Mitchell’s readers can be excused if they greet a new novel by this unalloyed genius with both goose-pimply anticipation and trepidation over meeting the challenge. Not to worry. Utopia Avenue, while leaving behind neither the complexity nor the genre-bending pyrotechnics of The Bone Clocks (2014), is by far the most accessible of Mitchell’s broad-canvas novels. This addictive Big Gulp of a narrative not only delivers a compelling and multitextured look at the 1960s, but it also could be the best novel about a rock band since Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010). Mitchell evokes the psychedelic age with a bravura mix of telling details and richly composed portraits of iconic figures ... Mitchell masterfully builds each of the four into top-of-the-marquee characters, subtly mixing coming-of-age portraits with revealing glimpses of inner lives ... a foot-tapping ode to rock music, but, like the band in full cry Mitchell continues to use the rhythms of surface reality to dig much deeper, but without ever losing the beat.
Mitchell’s magical, much anticipated latest...is a rollicking, rapturous tale of 1960s rock ’n’ roll ... ach chapter name is the title of a song and focuses on one of the main characters in the band, and Mitchell unspools at least a dozen original song lyrics and descriptions of performances that are just as fiery and infectious as his narratives. Mitchell makes the best use of his familiar elements, from recurring characters to an innovative narrative structure, delivering more fun, more mischief, and more heart than ever before. This is Mitchell at his best.
Noted novelist Mitchell returns with a gritty, richly detailed fable from rock’s golden age ... The usual stuff of rock dramas—the ego clashes, the drugs, the hangers-on, and record-company parasites—is all there, but Mitchell, who wasn’t born when Utopia Avenue’s putative first album was released, knows exactly which real-life musicians to seed into the story: There’s Gene Clark of The Byrds, for example...Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Syd Barrett, Jackson Browne, and Jerry Garcia turn up...There’s even a highly learned if tossed-aside reference to how the Stones’ album Let It Bleed earned its name. Bone spurs and all, it’s realistic indeed and just the thing for pop music fans of a bygone era that’s still very much with us ... Those whose musical tastes end in the early 1970s—and literary tastes are up to the minute—will especially enjoy Mitchell’s yarn.