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Utopia Avenue

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Utopia Avenue are the strangest British band you've never heard of. Emerging from London's psychedelic scene in 1967 and fronted by folksinger Elf Holloway, guitar demigod Jasper de Zoet and blues bassist Dean Moss, Utopia Avenue released only two LPs during its brief and blazing journey from the clubs of Soho and draughty ballrooms to Top of the Pops and the cusp of chart success, to glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome and a fateful American fortnight in the autumn of 1968.

David Mitchell's new novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue; of riots in the streets and revolutions in the head; of drugs, thugs, madness, love, sex, death, art; of the families we choose and the ones we don't; of fame's Faustian pact and stardom's wobbly ladder. Can we change the world in turbulent times, or does the world change us? Utopia means 'nowhere' but could a shinier world be within grasp, if only we had a map?

564 pages, Hardcover

First published July 14, 2020

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About the author

David Mitchell

158 books13.9k followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,644 reviews
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,220 followers
September 8, 2020
I hate to say this but, after some entertainment early on, I found Utopia Avenue irritating, vapid and often boring. My love affair with Mitchell reached its peak with Cloud Atlas. The decline began with The Bone Clocks and Slade House. They at least though were entertaining in their silly madcap way. This often struck me as a novel written with too much glee and not enough artistry.

Mitchell loves the band he's created. He writes about them with fidgety infatuated excitement. He lovingly describes their songs and provides us with (longwinded dreary) interviews they give to the press. There's lots of dressing in this novel. In fact, at times it seems like 90% dressing with a thin story running through it. Like the long gratuitous passages of crass chit chat and the Madame Tussauds cast of dead rock stars who each appear for a cameo appearance but who are mostly as silly and gimmicky as waxworks.

When I think of how many memorable characters he created in Cloud Atlas it's baffling that here he couldn't come up with a single one of compelling interest. It's like he's so smitten with the band he's created he neglects to bother much about its components. Dean, the bass player, is insidiously obnoxious and would make a splendid villain. The problem is, Mitchell wants us to like him so his villainy serves little purpose. And the relentless replacing of you with yer in his speech grated like hell. Elf probably gets my vote as the most anaemic female character I've encountered all year - always lovesick - no surprise even Mitchell seems to lose interest in her half way through the novel. The less said about the hackneyed drummer the better. Jasper de Zoet is a descendent of Jacob and is more interesting until all the magical metanovel stuff arrives. The vapid way in which his mental health issues are overnight cured is pure silliness. The speed and ease with which Dean and Elf exorcise their demons is barely less trite.

Often it reads like a tabloid vision of a rock band. All the clichés are present. Bondage sex fuelled by cocaine, paternity suits, blackmail, adultery scandal, plagiarism, and all within the space of a year. It's a novel full of melodrama with very little character interaction. Much of the melodrama has no purpose - a fatal car crash, forgotten almost immediately after it occurs. The death of a child, likewise. A sex slave ring, brought in briefly to provide some more cheap frisson. This band experiences more drama in a year than any other band in their entire careers. The daily personal challenges and relationships we all go through in life seem to bore David Mitchell. Ultimately his attention always shifts to what's larger than normal life. This worked in Cloud Atlas because the narratives were short. Over a 600 page novel the presence of so much melodrama and high emotion becomes tiresome. Like not being able to get off a Big Dipper...

There are some great sentences but there are also way too many bum notes for me. Most of the time it just didn't ring true. It read to me like wish fulfilment fiction on the part of Mitchell. No surprise it didn't even make the Booker short list.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,462 reviews3,611 followers
October 14, 2020
Offspring of the swinging sixties were flower children and rock musicians. Now, ‘looking through a glass onion’, David Mitchell recreates that fabulous psychedelic epoch…
‘The Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Kinks,’ says Griff. ‘They’re not trying to change the world. They don’t buy their mansions by writing anthems about CND or making a socialist paradise. They’re just out to make fookin’ good music.’
‘The best pop songs are art,’ says Jasper. ‘Making art is already a political act. The artist rejects the dominant version of the world. The artist proposes a new version. A subversion. It’s there in the etymology. Tyrants are right to fear art.’

To boys and girls any rock song is a song of freedom – freedom from the dull world of adults, freedom from the boring conventions of society. To parents all rock songs are bats out of hell…
The rods and cones packing his retinas convert the light into electrical impulses that travel along optic nerves into his brain, which translates the varying wavelengths of light into ‘Virgin Mary blue’, ‘blood of Christ red’, ‘Gethsemane green’, and interprets the images as twelve disciples, each occupying a segment of the cartwheel window. Vision begins in the heart of the sun. Jasper notes that Jesus’s disciples were, essentially, hippies: long hair, gowns, stoner expressions, irregular employment, spiritual convictions, dubious sleeping arrangements and a guru.

The old want old times to stay… The young want new times to come…
All the times are so different… All the times are so similar…
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,302 reviews43.9k followers
August 26, 2020
Welcome to the swinging sixties: to the world of youth-driven revolution, modernism combines with hedonism showing its creative flourishing at the art, music, fashion. The world of Vietnam War, hippies, drugs, sex, rebellion, rock n roll! But this is not a story about Four Liverpool boys conquer the world with their rhythm and charisma or the other band members made us empathize with devil and taught us the importance of having satisfaction.

Nope this story is about Utopia Avenue, one of the strangest British bands of the history. The most enjoying fact about the introductions is the method of characters’ definitions. They are described by their music and lyrics. We’re introduced to the band members starting with Elf Holloway: folksinger, a brilliant woman trying to survive at the man’s world but her parts of the story were mostly melodramatic about her fights with her insecurities and self-sufficiency.

So let’s go back to meet with the others( I have to admit I enjoyed their stories more. Even though they’re tragic, heart wrenching and consisting a very dark humor and sarcasm.)

Dean Moss: Blues bassist, dealing with his bad luck and surviving in his tragi-comic life choices.

But our guitarist Jasper De Zot’s story was more heartbreaking than the others because of his inner fight with his mental illness. His pain, suffer at the creation process. (Let me tell you something, I haven’t read something so powerful, realistic and emotional that describes the challenging points of creating art!!! It reminded me of Bohemian Rhapsody movies’ tragi-comic scene (mostly silly-comic) as the band members locked themselves into a bar and finally they were illuminated by finding the lyrics world: they magically appeared in their minds!!!??? (Really, is that Oscar winning best movie script?)

Anyways, I don’t want to compare this remarkable masterpiece with shitty script’s painfully absurd song creating process scene or Daisy and the six’s more daytime TV romance kind of story-telling by using docuseries transcripts. But I can imagine how challenging, compelling and aching process to create something concrete like giving a child birth.

And of course I had no idea about the term named “emotional dyslexia” till I read the impeccable depictions and its effects on the people. Jasper is suffering from this unique, complex illness which means it is challenging for him to understand his own feelings and reflect them to the outside world. Sometimes his expressions and articulations don’t reflect what he’s bottled inside which makes him ticking bomb: too many unexpressed and hidden emotions create a whirlwind turmoil so only his music and song lyrics help him to survive!

This is musically unique, vivid, original, head spinning, entertaining, ultra-smart journey with too many surprising cameos from John Lennon, Diana Ross, Leonard Cohen , Jerry Garcia to Keith Moon, Mama Cass. Just grab the book and join David Mitchell’s powerful, magical, extraordinary universe.

Utopia means “nowhere” but maybe we can find my happiness at that place with right directions coming from our own hearts!

4.5 magical, mesmerizing, complex, musical, experimental stars rounded 5!

So much special thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for giving me opportunity to read and review this ARC. I’m always a big fan of David Mitchell’s captivating, outstanding novels and I truly loved this book!

Profile Image for Kyle.
377 reviews556 followers
August 23, 2021
People of Goodreads, this one was worth the wait! David Mitchell is a gift to the literary world, and his groovy new novel, Utopia Avenue, TOPS THE CHARTS! This may very well be my favorite of the year (and it’s only February!).

First things first: I LIIIIIIIVED for the music, pop culture, film, and history references in this book. David Mitchell chose his decade and setting well for this outing. The 60’s London music scene was (and is!) I-CO-NIC, but it was also a decade of momentous change, conflict, and advancement. The Swingin’ Sixties was counter-culture and civil rights, Vietnam, hippies, beatniks, psychedelia and LSD, revolution, riots, and sex, drugs, & rock ‘n’ roll. All of that, you’ll find here. There is so much to pull from, and Mr. Mitchell wastes not a single important moment.

This novel is really a who’s-who of the 60’s, and—to just get it out of the way—is mostly why I took off half a star. Why, you may ask? We meet so many (in)famous characters from the era, which is all super exciting, but it throws the narrative off after the first dozen-or-so, and kind of becomes this whole ‘who can I toss into the plot now that was around in 1967?’ just for the hell of it. In keeping with the music vibe: It’s a bit of a scratch in an otherwise groovy record.

Anywho, the review plows onwards..

The interconnected-ness of David Mitchell’s novels makes me giddy, so if you’ve read his previous works, you’ll be treated to some fun Easter Eggs from his sprawling multiverse.
(I may or may not have cried at some of the familiar names and places. You’ll never know, and I’ll never fully admit it). Each chapter header is a song, driven by the narratives of a character’s arc, which I thought a cool addition. It works to the story’s benefit.

The way Mr. Mitchell crafts his characters from the get-go (and with such finesse!) was what hooked me. I was immediately invested in each of them—Dean, Elf, Jasper, Levon, Griff—they all came alive. It’s really a testament to the writing that barely 10% into the book, all the characters were already so fully realized. Each of their respective chapters—as the POV shifts between Dean (the bassist), Elf (the keyboardist), Jasper (the guitarist), and once each for Griff (the drummer) and Levon (their manager)—all have a distinctive voice and mood/emotion running through them.

Dean’s chapters were tragi-comic, in a sense. Scraping by, down-on-his-luck. His felt at times like incertitude, desperation, excess, bumbling hopefulness. (A character comes in halfway through, and describes each band member through their music)... “Life is a battle, is hard, but you is not alone.”

Elf’s were mostly personal drama. A talented woman trying to make waves in a man’s world, all the while grappling with her own confusions. Her chapters were insecurity, questioning, repression, finding an escape, and tightly-wound stresses. ”Life is sad, is joy, is emotions.”

Jasper’s chapters were... well, let’s just say his POV introduction was ‘manic thoughts on a runaway train’. To be honest, and even though I loved them all, his chapters were the ones I looked forward to the most. I found them totally absorbing. David Mitchell has created such a complex character in Jasper. It’s all very ‘tortured artist’ on the surface, but it goes much deeper than that. Jasper’s struggles with (and I use this term loosely knowing the full context of the story) “mental illness” really hit me hard. Reading his racing thoughts was like reading my own—perfectly capturing the mania. Knock-knock. His chapters made me think: melancholia, tension, genius, artist... deeply removed, but holding on. He was constantly having to “act” the part of a “Normal” human being, and fighting to keep sane. ”Life is strange, is wonderland, a dream.”

As the novel progresses, the subtle shifts and changes to each character became more pronounced as their careers blossomed. The way they metamorphosed (or degraded) was written brilliantly and realistically, I’d say, for the industry. Each character has their chance to shine in Utopia Avenue, and brightly they do.

One thing that I am still a bit torn on is the treatment of “mental illness” in this book. At times, I found the discussions profound, and others... well, not so much. Jasper’s (I wouldn’t dare guess at a formal diagnosis) “emotional dyslexia” was handled well; Trying to understand and articulate what he felt inside, but an inability to decode and express it. Constantly trying to parse and understand the emotions, facial expressions, intonations of everyone and everything— A sort of social dysfunction. It was heartbreaking, but also beautifully done, his broadening detachments from reality. **I don’t want to say anything more on the subject for fear of entering spoiler territory, but in terms of the rest of his psychosis... I kind of wish it had gone a different route..**

Nearing the end, the plot (momentarily) shifts dramatically. It fits right into David Mitchell’s wheelhouse, though, and honestly makes for quite a surprise. But after those few chapters, the narrative sort of lost a bit of steam, until it meanders to its conclusion. I think it threw off the pace and dimmed a bit of the magic. I’ll say this, too: If you haven’t read Mr. Mitchell’s previous novels (two in particular), you will be confused regarding moments in the final 1/4th of this book (and if you’d like to know which two, I’ve mentioned them in a “spoiler” tag in the comments). It’s not exactly a major issue, but it’s certainly a sizable, confusing hole in the narrative without having prior context. I can’t decide if that’s for better or worse, because this book managed to whisk me mind, body, and soul straight out of my reading slump. The trio of nit-picky complaints I have don’t change the fact that I found Utopia Avenue an epic, engrossing, and wild f*cking ride from start to finish.

Actual rating: 4.5 (rounded up)
(A thousand thanks to Random House and NetGalley for providing me this ARC, in exchange for an honest review!)

*There is another popular review on here that pretty much stole a lot of the language I use in this review. To that person: shame on you! If you can’t come up with one on your own, don’t steal from other’s reviews because you weren’t clever enough to begin with. Better yet: don’t write a review at all!*
Profile Image for Marchpane.
296 reviews2,164 followers
August 1, 2020
“the supreme enemy of all Utopias—boredom.”
―Arthur C. Clarke

With its goofy celebrity cameos, cheesy dialogue and affable but wooden characters, Utopia Avenue is a bit like an extended Doctor Who episode set in the Swinging Sixties except it’s much less fun and takes itself way too seriously.

This novel is too long, too dull, and unconvincing as a 1960s period piece. I can’t see that it adds anything to the Mitchellverse that we don’t already know from previous novels (I haven’t read them all, so I could be wrong). There are LOTS of Easter eggs to be found, but that’s all they are.

If this had been a debut from an unknown, it might have received a ‘shows potential!’ two stars. But Mitchell is an established, successful author (whose work I have previously enjoyed) who seems to be indulging an ‘I coulda been a songwriter’ exercise in wish-fulfilment, rather than writing a novel that serves his readers. Edit this draft down, kill some darlings, find a narrative backbone, and Utopia Avenue might have been a decent, if cheesy, summer read.

As is, there’s no real narrative throughline. A band forms, dub themselves Utopia Avenue, cut records, go on tour, meet some famous people. Occasionally a Meaningful Thing happens to one of them, but these events are only devices, so that the band member can write a song about it. Often it seems like the creation of the song gets more page time than the Meaningful Thing.

The exception is guitarist Jasper’s story, which is the one that connects to Mitchell’s other works—this plotline has a little more body to it, just enough to make you wonder why Mitchell didn’t write a novel wholly about Jasper de Zoet. Having said that, the resolution of Jasper’s plotline (characters from Mitchell’s other novels show up, wave a magic wand to solve Jasper’s problem, and disappear) is pretty unsatisfying.

The characters are underdrawn, and apart from the (minimal) effects of that magic wand on Jasper, they don’t really change or develop over the course of 600 pages despite attaining fame and success and generally having their lives transformed by stardom. Very little goes wrong for the band outside of the Meaningful Things—there are no egos or spats, this is the Mary Poppins of rock bands: practically perfect in every way. The celebrity cameos (of which there were FAR too many) rang equally false.

The women characters were particularly bad, and seemingly incapable of thinking about anything other than their relationships, or their own womanness. When Janis Joplin appears briefly, it’s to ask Elf, Utopia Avenue’s only female member, if she knows ‘How to do what we do, as a woman.’ and to complain about Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2 lyrics ‘she gave me head on the unmade bed’ (which, by-the-by, Cohen wrote about Joplin after her death, but apparently Mitchell’s contribution to “feminism” here justifies the anachronism).

Elf is attracted to women and spends most of her storyline figuring out her sexuality. Even so, she can’t stop thinking about men. Seeing a couple getting romantic: ‘He looks plain. She’s gorgeous, like a she-wolf. I wish I was him.’ When she’s with a male lover: ‘Elf wonders what it’s like to be the guy.’ And while being kissed by a woman: ‘No male stubble to pretend to not mind as it scrubs me raw.’ The male-gaze writing of this queer female character is cringe-inducing.

In fact, a lot of this novel made me cringe. I think I strained my eyeballs rolling them. The dialogue was either corny ( ‘I – lost – my – shit.’ ‘We’re still learning American. Is losing shit a good thing or a bad thing?) or just unconvincing, not to mention a few racially insensitive moments. Mitchell loves onomatopoeia:

The phone ring-rings in the hallway

Click. Purrr . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dean hangs up

‘Hold the line one moment, sir.’ Click; scratch; clunk. ‘God of Rock, how are yer?’

Click. Scrit-scrit. [This one is repeated a lot, it’s a camera. It got irritating.]

Chingggggggggggg! A hush descends. [That’s tapping a glass to make a toast.]

Scratch, scratch, scratch, goes Amy’s pen.

Elf’s nerves went zzzzzzt.

I tell you what, my own nerves were going zzzzzzt trying to get to the end of this book. But it might have been bearable if the novel had not been so very dull. Half a page for a character ordering room service. Working out the chords to a song. Running through full set lists (of fictional songs by a fictional band). The band doing ‘publicity’—ie vapid Q&As. And endless encounters with famous 60s icons, consisting of ‘look, it’s [Insert Name Here]!’ followed by tedious small talk.

For me, Utopia Avenue was a stodgy, 600-page damp squib. Still, I know that there will be plenty of readers who will enjoy it and be unbothered by the things I found grating. Its nostalgia and uncomplicated, sunny optimism admittedly give it plenty of appeal, especially right now. I get it. But I did NOT dig it.
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
May 7, 2022
Great to hear that Mitchell confirms this is optioned for a miniseries adaptation! https://youtu.be/_dXIL393EPQ

Despite the for me unappealing topic a surprising heart wrenching book, elevated by its connections to the Mitchellverse and the normal wit and literary craftsmanship on a sentence level of the author
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.”

Art is memory made public.

I was a bit conflicted on rating Utopia Avenue; partly this is due to my lack of musical interest and investment in the sixties that form the decor of this novel, which chronicles the rise of a fictitious band to stardom. Also I feel part of this novel's eligibility to the reader is dependent on having read (and enjoyed) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and The Bone Clocks. And there are some idiosyncratic choices, like would a manager from the 60’s say a hipster term as “I’m curating a band”, who names a character Heinz Formaggio or Gunther Marx, and would a supposedly Dutch character like Jasper truly not know how to spell Bitterballen?

Still David Mitchell his writing is a warm bath, I picked this book up thinking I needed something I was sure to find enjoyable, and the first two chapters full of the serendipitous formation of the titular band did not disappoint, as can be said for the novel as a whole.
So I am rounding up the 4,5 stars, also not to be the following kind of reviewer: The kind of critic who’d look at a Michelangelo and complain the marble’s too pale and the dick’s too small.

Structure and characters
Have I strayed into a French novel, wonders Levon, where characters talk about art for page after page?

The structure of the novel follows the creative osmosis leading to songs on the LP's of the titular band. The perspective changes based on the writer of each track, and we get to understand how their circumstances impacted the character in coming up with their song.

Dean is one of the writers and singers coming back most, initially he seems to be rather thinly characterized by his usage of "yer". He is working class and comes from the same town that the main character of the Bone Clocks come from.

Elf Holloway is the folk only female part of the band. She struggles with relationships and patriarchy (Go castrate yourself with a rusty spoon, you crusty pervert were the words that sprang to mind), comes from a loving and upper class banker family, and explains The Odyssey to Dean somewhere. Elf is warm and loving and quite grounded, and at parties says things like I write songs to discover what I want to say.

Jasper de Zoet, distant relative to the main character of the Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a guitarist who has a history with mental institutions. An emotionally ignored scion of a wealthy family he has a psychosis masquerading as a malign entity in his head (or is it the other way around?)
I liked his segments most, his wit and sharpness with words are unparalleled, maybe partly due to his "emotional dyslexia". He says things like the following, in which I think I recognize a bit of the way of phrasing of Mitchell in interviews himself:
The present is a curtain. Those who do see - via luck or prescience- change what is there by seeing. That’s why it’s unknowable. Fundamentally. Intrinsically. I like adverbs.
Or wisdoms like:
Less than eight is haste. More than eight procrastination. Eight days is enough for the world to shuffle the deck and deal you another hand.

Maybe people are a bit too witty and wordy, including a lot of the famous cameos embedded in the novel. But I have a weakness to aphorisms like:
A person is a thing that leaves.
Suffering is the promise that life always keeps.
True love is the act of trying to love. Effortless love is as dubious as effortless gardening.
Marriage is an anchor, lads. Stops you drifting onto the rocks, but stops you voyaging as well.
Grief is the bill of love, fallen due.
Disaster is rebirth, seen from the front. Rebirth is disaster, seen from behind.

There are also side characters like Hull raised drummer Griff and manager Levon Frankland who both have a chapter from their perspective. Mitchell manages to make these side characters, and Bruce, an ex to Elf, very much alive.

Dean in the end turns out however to be the most interesting character, despite I not clicking that much with his narrative voice. He is the vehicle of most rockstar excesses, he has tension between what he says he aspires to from an ethical point of view and his real acts, he seems changed by his overnight success. An ex somewhere in the book says the following to him and is spot on in characterizing him, cause indeed I as reader still rooted for him and found him the most fleshed out and human of the band:
I’d like to say “I wish you the best”, but I don’t want my last words to you to be a lie. So... I hope you’ll find a better version of yourself than the one you are now.

Into the Mitchellverse
Do you think reality is just a mirror for something else?

While reading I loved all “Mitchelverse” references to Cloud Atlas (with Jasper listening to the Sextet), The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (ancestor to one of the band members), Ghostwritten(with Bat Segundo and the Mongolian), The Bone Clocks (Gravesend and Aphra Booth). These “cameos” in a way are even more satisfying then the 60’s music world ones, of which I have little knowledge.
Marinus! Luisa Rey! Crispin Hershey! Aphra Booth! Even a N9D reference if brief. It is impressive how Mitchell seemingly effortlessly ties his whole body of work together in a parsimonious manner.

It did however in the back of my mind also made me also feel a bit like I was reading a form of high quality fanfiction; like I was browsing the Star Wars wiki’s that have backstories for every little side character that appears once or twice in the canon movies.

Still there is a lot to enjoy, as in the Bone Clocks I loved the Horologist sections (The ethics of what we do are grey, I admit. But if ethics aren’t grey they aren’t ethics) most.
The setting of the novel in the sixties, with full blown psychedelic and reincarnation being en vogue, even makes an alternative interpretation plausible.
And the snarkiness in this section is just so enjoyable and takes me back to the pyrotechnics of dialogue in Ghostwritten:
So you’ve spent the last day rummaging in my memory, uninvited?
Do you ask a book for permission before you read it?
Should I call you by another name?
Would you care by what name a dog knows you?

The stuff of live chronicled
He feels what you feel when you’ve lost something, but before you worked out what it is.

This is not an high octane novel, if for one of the first times it is a reasonably straightforward linear narrative. It is almost a slice of life in a sense, it would be such a good miniseries I feel.
But the way how Mitchell makes you care and feel grief for a hardly mentioned character dying halfway is both testament to impressive storytelling and the conjuring of thumanity of fictional characters that kept me hooked on reading onwards.

And I did not saw that ending coming, it is almost emotional sabotage in a way, but also put the whole novel for me in a new perspective and emotional light. Something I only frequent remember in the writing of Kazuo Ishiguro, in for instance An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day, another one of my favourite authors.
So he Mitchell does it again and I look forward to future forays into the Mitchellverse!
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews186 followers
January 17, 2021
Utopia Avenue chronicles the life and times of a British psychedelic rock band who shine brightly for a while in the late sixties, charting their journey from humble beginnings to fame and infamy. This big novel paints a colourful picture of the music industry and life in the 1960’s - it’s druggy idealism, long hair and explosion of sexual and musical experimentation. It’s also a change of direction for David Mitchell who is more typically known for his ‘linked short story’ style of writing - Cloud Atlas, Bone Clocks, Ghostwritten etc.
It’s 1967 and Levon Frankland, an up and coming American manager has a vision of creating a British band and making them famous. He carefully does his research, targets and hunts down the four talented young musicians that will become Utopia Avenue:
Dean, ace bass player and songwriter struggling to enter the London music scene and struggling to pay his landlady.
Elf, songwriter and keyboard player, from Home Counties stock, a hit single already under her belt, grappling with a messy break up from Bruce, the Australian ‘other half’ of her folk duo.
Griff, the blunt, unreconstructed northern drummer, currently drumming with a respected jazz band.
Jasper de Zoet, the half Dutch virtuoso lead guitarist, singular public school boy, with his unique world view and never ending battles inside his head.
David Mitchell is a favourite author and I’d been looking forward to this new novel for ages but for me it wasn’t without a few issues.
Some of the random detours (a Mitchell trademark) were a bit lengthy and didn’t always lead anywhere, too much time was spent in flashbacks that slowed the pace of the narrative and there were too many scenes set at parties, backstage or at band practices where multiple people were having multiple random conversations, which ultimately became a bit irritating.
But ............. there was so much more about this novel that I liked.
I loved the walk on cameos of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Sid Barrett, Brian Jones etc etc etc, I loved the characters randomly popping up out of Mitchell’s other novels (he just can’t help himself!), I loved the abundance of fine writing which often fizzed,crackled and popped, I loved the parts of the story that were gripping and propulsive, I loved the background of the music industry, I loved the stuff on song writing and guitars (although some of the terminology sounded a little odd) I loved the emotional depth given to the central characters and I wanted to jam with them and then meet them down the pub for a pint afterwards! (in fact I felt a little bereft to leave them all at the end of the novel, but knowing David Mitchell, goodbye probably doesn’t mean goodbye)
David Mitchell’s novels are big, stuffed with a vast amount of characters, storylines and ideas. Not everything is always going to work perfectly but his books are always enigmatic, mind bending and immersive.
I can imagine some not getting on with this novel, but for me, it was an enjoyable and unique reading experience.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
January 15, 2021
”’We’re like…

Princesses in the age of dynastic marriages.’

Janis bites her lower lip and nods. ‘And our fame raises the value of locker-room bragging. Which the guys gain from. Oh, yeah, Janis Joplin? I know Janis. She gave me head on the unmade bed. I hate it. But how do you fight it? Or change it? Or survive it?’

‘I’m not on your level yet,’ says Elf. ‘Have you any advice?’

‘No advice. Only a fear and a name: Billie Holiday.’

Elf takes a third sip of Brutal Truth. ‘Didn’t Billie Holiday die a heroin addict with no functioning liver, under arrest on her death-bed, with only seventy cents in her bank account?’

Janis lights a cigarette. ‘That’s the fear.’”

I don’t know if there has ever been a more exploited group of artists on the planet than musicians, especially rock musicians. They hit it big with record deals and sold out crowds at their concerts, and everyone around them assumes they are rich, but in reality, they don’t have a pot to piss in. The studios and agents lock them up in contracts that make sure the bulk of the money stays with the nontalent side of the partnership. ”’Often, the talent doesn’t want to believe it, because that would prove they’re gullible morons. They prefer to look away. I know one manager who gets the talent so hooked on drugs, they’re too fried to ask about the money.’”

The road to being successful is so difficult, and everyone is aware of the number of bands that implode or never get any traction before disappearing without a trace. Bands are desperate to get a deal, and frankly, the money is secondary to just being recognized. It is easy to exploit desperation. I’ve seen writers do it, too. They are so relieved that someone wants to publish their book they couldn’t care less about the money. Goodreads depends on all of us to write reviews for free to make their site work. We do it for the love of the game.

There is a lot of suffering creating art of any kind, and I’m not sure why our system is designed to make it so hard for artists/writers/musicians to be successful. In 1967, the beginning of drug culture, the birth of rock and roll, and free love, it was so easy to exploit these creative people who were bursting with wild thoughts they needed to express and desires that needed to be fulfilled. The wrong people, as usual, became rich.

So that brings us to Utopia Avenue, made up of Jasper de Zost on guitar, Elf Holloway on the keyboard, Dean Moss on the bass, and Peter “Griff” Griffin on the drums. The first three are also writers, and so they have that special Beatles mixture of talent that gives them an edge over other bands. With that many writers in a band putting together material for an album or three is not that difficult. For me, the only real bands are those that write their own material, not that I can’t enjoy the performances of bands who buy their songs, but I love it when I know a song was written by the people performing it. So I’m already rooting for Utopia Avenue from the early pages of the novel. As the reader, I am a roadie and love helping them, from the comfort of my reading armchair, lug their equipment around to various venues as they try to find their sound.

They are lucky and find a decent agent, reasonably honest, who is there to wipe their noses, book their gigs, make sure they show up on time, and mother them through the process of reaching stardom. Success is an addictive drug, and listening to crowds start to sing your words back at you and scream for more songs the moment your set ends is like mainlining heroin or, for some, a brilliant LSD trip.

No one is affected by burgeoning success more than Dean Moss. He, in many ways, has the least. He is estranged from his family and camping out on this bloke’s couch or this chap’s hard piece of floor. He owns nothing but his bass and the songs in his head. He finds amazing girlfriends, but then can’t resist the occasional one night stand with a fan on the road. He gets caught every time, mainly because nothing about his life is private anymore. There are eyes watching him all the time. Despite his faults, or maybe because of them, I actually like Dean the best. There is something naive and honest about him, despite his sexual indiscretions, that I, if I were his friend, would do my best to keep him from tripping over his own dick. He needs some direction in a directionless world.

We have Elf Holloway, who is struggling with her personal life, not because of Deanesque problems, but because she seems attracted to the wrong people, or the wrong people are attracted to her. She brings a folksie blend to the band that has a lot to do with the unique sound they produce, which sets them apart from other bands. These are early days for girls to be in rock and roll bands, but it doesn’t take long for producers and managers to understand that the public likes seeing girls on stage. Imagine that! Her boyfriend Bruce tries to interject himself into the band politics like an Australian Yoko Ono, but it doesn’t work. The band has formed its own cosmos, and outsiders need to stay on the other side of the glass.

Jasper de Zost is a brilliant musician, on a different level than anyone else. There is money in his family, but that life exists in a parallel, non-intersecting universe. Music is everything. He is in a crucial battle with his own brain. An invader he calls Knock Knock, a demon type creature, is trying to take over his brain. The drugs that keep the creature contained are also dangerous for Jasper’s future health. He needs time to get all this music out of his head before the demon takes control. Not much was known about mental health in the 1960s, and trying to explain his condition to someone would be like trying to make them believe he is really a Martian.

Drummers always seem to take a backseat in bands. They are generally at the back of the stage and rarely a fan favorite. Griff has a good sense of humor about that, most of the time, though he can become hilariously acerbic. When he is in a car accident, the band immediately sees the problem with using another drummer. The timing is all off, and that special sauce that makes Utopia Avenue different from other bands is missing too many ingredients.

The real people populating this book, from Mick Farren to David Bowie to Janis Joplin and the ongoing hunt for John Lennon at every party, certainly add extra layers of enjoyment for me. I love this description of Jimi Hendricks:

”’We taught ourselves, sitting down in rooms. Jimi’s a street guitarist. Plays with his whole body. Calves, waist, hips.’

‘Balls, ass, and cock,’ adds Pigpen. ‘He’s the first black cat who white women, y’know, forthed for. I’ve never seen anything like it. They kinda...dripped lust.’”

So what David Mitchell does in this book is make me like all the band members. I may have my favorite, but I find myself worrying over each of them as if they are my own bundle of musically talented friends. This book will always be remembered by me as the book I read while waiting through my father’s heart valve replacement surgery. Elf, Jasper, Dean, and Griff kept me company in the corner of the waiting room while I waited for the eventual news of a successful surgery. There is always a book close to my hand, so anything that happens in my life becomes attached to the book I’m reading at the time. My memories of book plots and the ongoing plots of my life fuse into one interconnected memory. This book is forever a part of the happy news I received in the Heart Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,191 reviews1,816 followers
February 5, 2023

1966 e avanti per un paio d’anni a seguire.
Londra. Che all’epoca aveva preso il ruolo di capitale del mondo occidentale.
Per esempio, era dove nasceva la nuova moda e la nuova musica.
Era l’epoca della “British Invasion”: e cioè, semplificando alquanto, USA e UK si erano passati il testimone, i musicisti inglesi sfondavano negli Stati Uniti e i musicisti americani, nonostante la “Summer of Love”, andavano a Londra perché quello era l’epicentro musicale del mondo occidentale.
Syd Barrett era ancora i Pink Floyd e i discografici americani si trasferivano in Europa, a Londra in primis, in cerca di nuovi talenti. Perché, in quegli anni il talento musicale faceva rima con Inghilterra.
Chiaro: sto parlando di musica rock. Che vuol dire folk, blues, pop, psichedelica, prog ecc.

Accanto alla fittizia band protagonista, gli Utopia Avenue del titolo, qui e là compaiono anche personaggi veri, perlopiù ormai defunti. In ordine alfabetico, non di apparizione: Syd Barrett, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Sandy Denny, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Paul Kantner, Steve Marriott, Keith Moon… Una strage.
Mitchell segue la band dalla formazione al successo attraverso alti e bassi, avanti e indietro nel tempo per raccontare tutti e i quattro membri, due dei quali vengono dalla classe proletaria, gli altri due da quella borghese.
Ce li racconta nei loro momenti più pregnanti: le prove, la composizione, la registrazione, i concerti, i singoli e gli album - ossia quelli che all’epoca erano i 45 e i 33 giri - lo sbarco in America, il Chelsea Hotel... Ci sono incidenti, morti, amori, incontri, interviste, timori e tremori, gioia e un qualche tipo di rivoluzione. Tutto quello che ci si aspetta, più qualcos’altro.
Intanto, l’Europa bolliva per scrollarsi di dosso la gabbia di regole imposte dalle generazioni precedenti – che avendo concluso e vinto la guerra pensavano che il mondo appartenesse a loro – il tutto condito con la speranza che si riuscisse a cambiare il sistema.
In US c’era anche il Vietnam, l’assassinio di Bob Kennedy, quello di Martin Luther King…

La band ottiene successo, fan accaniti e un certo grado di piacevole notorietà. Ma non, ovviamente, la felicità. Mitchell è bravo a scavare le cuciture della perdita, dell'ambizione e del puro caso che si nascondono sotto l’impalcatura della fama. Ognuno dei quattro membri vive le tensioni irrisolte tra le richieste e le ricompense dell'arte e dell'ambizione, e le forze opposte del dovere, del fallimento e del dolore. La morte arriva all'improvviso; l'amore viene offerto, ritirato e sprecato. L'impulso a fare musica è inspiegabile, irresistibile e costante. La musica è fatta di vibrazioni nell’aria, nient’altro: ma queste vibrazioni generano reazioni fisiche. Perché funziona così lo sa solo dio, e probabilmente nemmeno lui.
A fronte di tutto ciò, la ricerca di un’autentica identità musicale da parte della band rappresenta la generazione che si allontana dai modi e dai costumi del dopoguerra come un treno in partenza da una stazione, e Mitchell trasmette a meraviglia l'energia di quel sangue giovane e lo spirito di quell'epoca.

Ben dentro il romanzo, oltre la metà, quasi romanzo nel romanzo, Mitchell si ricorda di essere l’autore di Cloud Atlas, e il racconto vira e svisa sempre più verso la fantascienza o il fantasy, ma forse dato l’argomento principale, è più corretto parlare di psichedelia. E allora, a parte descrivere un trip lisergico – che è meglio vivere piuttosto che leggere o vedere al cinema, dove sono molto ma molto più noiosi della realtà – è la schizofrenia, l’elemento psicotico a prendere il sopravvento. Mitchell spalanca le porte della percezione e devo ammettere che è una delle parti più riuscite di questo lungo racconto.
Forse anche troppo lungo: qui e là non tutto è necessario e indispensabile. Ci sono momenti più finti di altri, e altri più veri. C’è un lungo episodio ambientato a Roma dove l’Italia sembra un paese latinoamericano, o africano, in Europa per caso.
La prosa del romanzo è per la maggior parte consapevolmente scorrevole e priva di attriti: è un romanzo estremamente leggibile, se per leggibilità si intende una qualità difficile da raggiungere e un sollievo da incontrare.
Mitchell dispiega la migliore sapienza cinematografica, per esempio la capacità di entrare dentro una scena senza preamboli, o quella di chiuderla, magari di netto, senza dissolvenza.
Nel complesso, un racconto divertente, vivace, emozionante.
E io mi sono goduto tutte le seicento pagine.

Le stelle di Mario Schifano, la band sponsorizzata dal nostro Warhol proprio in quegli anni.
Profile Image for Hanneke.
338 reviews352 followers
August 13, 2020
Expect the unexpected! Isn’t that always the case with any new novel by David Mitchell? After ‘The Bone Clocks’ and ‘Slade House’, I was certainly not expecting a straightforward narrative and I must confess that this made me initially nervous, even a bit anxious, because I feared that David Mitchell had decided to write a novel in a conventional way just to show he is capable to do that magnificently as well.

Thus, to my surprise, I did not encounter any unexpected strange or fantastical events popping up for some three-quarters of the novel. Even in the last quarter, you cannot deny that anything out of the ordinary occured. Unorthodox thoughts and deep despairs only took place in peoples' minds, thus more or less invisible.

We are being told the breathtaking tale of the rise of the psychedelic rockband Utopia Avenue from their early beginnings in damp venues in way off towns in Britain in 1967 through their successful performances in the U.S. in 1968. It is clear that David Mitchell was enjoying himself tremendously giving us his very affectionate characterizations of the four band members. They are a playful lot, expressing lots of emotions and sometimes even sentimentality which is luckily just within good taste. Three of them have great song writing talents so you just have to visualize David Mitchell’s big grins on writing those lyrics, as well as their conversations with about all the big rock stars of that time. They are all there, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Brian Jones and many more, especially David Bowie who always seemed to be lost and taking the wrong way on staircases. The most outstanding member of the band is Jasper de Zoet, Dutch, former U.K. public school boy, and the direct descendent of Jacob de Zoet, who we have previously met in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Jasper’s mental condition is delicate, even heartbreaking, but his guitar playing is virtuoso and is often compared to Eric Clapton’s. With the nerve wrecking peeks into Jasper’s schizofrenic mind, the fantastical enters the story and I liked that, although you had to feel sorry for Jasper. In the last part of the book, the tone of voice sometimes reminded me of ‘Jacob de Zoet’, in which the story was also sprinkled with supernatural occurances but very sparsely as well.

David Mitchell’s tales are never restricted by borders in any way, be it physical nor by time past and future and it was really pleasant when encountering old friends again. Frobischer, Luisa Rey, Marinus and a few more that will be recognized with pleasure by David Mitchell’s fans of previous novels.

This novel was almost too much of a good thing sometimes, but David Mitchell really pulled it off. I just really loved it, but then I admit I am biased with regard to David Mitchell’s writing.
Profile Image for Doug.
2,039 reviews740 followers
July 4, 2020
4.5, rounded up.

In many respects, this is a departure for Mr. Mitchell, and I think how people will react to it will largely depend on whether they are long-time die-hard aficionados (as I AM!) ... or if this is their first exposure to this definitely sui generis author. This chronicle of two years in the formation and rise to fame of a late sixties 'psychedelic/pop/rock/folk' group could easily be seen as just a more literary version of the recent best-seller Daisy Jones & The Six - since it treads similar ground within the same time frame. And for those who approach it as such, they won't be disappointed, since it's like getting a bird's eye view to a period many of us weren't around for (indeed, Mitchell himself wasn't born till 1969 - so his feat of reconstruction here is astonishing). In fact, virtually EVERY famous and up-and-coming musical act of 1967-68 (from John Lennon to Leonard Cohen to Mama Cass to Keith Moon to Jerry Garcia to Diana Ross, etc., etc.) seems to make at least a cameo appearance in these pages - which MIGHT get a bit annoying if it wasn't also so much fun.

For those without any knowledge of the Mitchell multiverse, the book is largely easy enough to follow (with perhaps the minor exception of ONE chapter, as explained below) ... and will be satisfying on that fundamental level alone. But for fans, the exhilaration in any new Mitchell novel is playing connect-the-dots between this and his previous opuses. These people will probably NOT be disappointed either, since characters and concepts from those works show up regularly - from minor shout outs (Robert Frobisher from 'Cloud Atlas'; Bat Segundo from his first novel 'Ghostwritten') to at least semi-major characters (Luisa Rey, Crispin Hershey, Esther Little and Marinus from several previous works) here. Since I have a mind like a sieve, I regularly had to consult the Wikipedia entries for each of the novels to refresh my memory about his canon, and I strongly suggest anyone who wants to get the most from the book to do the same.

Thar said, however, the complex metaphysics so prominent in Mitchell's last novel, 'The Bone Clocks', with the cosmic meddling of the Horologists, etc., only makes a very late appearance in a single chapter, to explain the schizophrenia of guitar wizard Jasper de Zoet (progeny of the titular character in 'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet', several generations removed), so those expecting Mitchell to expand on those concepts could come away unsatisfied. I must admit I got somewhat lost trying to follow the myriad intricacies in 'Bone Clocks', so actually appreciated the short shrift it gets here, but others might miss such pyrotechnics.

The book comes to a most satisfying conclusion, though, especially for this San Francisco native, since the final chapters take place here, following the fabled Summer of Love - and this will surely make my 'best of' list for the year. Mitchell has garnered five Booker nominations for his previous seven books, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if this became his sixth - and he could perhaps even take home the prize this time (although I have a feeling either Mantel or Ali Smith will take it for the final volumes in their respective series).

My sincere thanks to both Random House and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for this honest and enthusiastic review.
Profile Image for Nat K.
425 reviews158 followers
December 16, 2022
" ‘Utopia’ means ‘no place’. An avenue is a place. So is music. When we’re playing well, I’m here, but elsewhere too. That’s the paradox, Utopia is unattainable. Avenues are everywhere."

And so ends the David Mitchell Odyssey. And what a book to end it with.

As the pages lessened, I have to admit I didn't want it to end. I was turning the pages ever-so-slowly.

I loved this book the first time around. With this re-read, and now having all seven of Mitchell's earlier books read, it puts Utopia Avenue into amazing context. It is incredible. I am in awe.

This is a book full of quotes. Of amazing writing. Despite reading it previously, I am blown away, even more than the first time. This goes straight to my "favourites" shelf. After working through Mitchell’s entire back catalogue this year, all the pieces of the puzzle of his amazing multi/Mitchellverse came together in this book. I had many wondrous “ah-ha” moments, as there was so much in the first reading that I was oblivious to, and which this time around I had context for. Names, places and events that I was unaware of previously, now all came together in a melting pot of incredible. This book is truly the icing on the cake for Mitchell’s amazing books.

If you love 60s music, read this. If you're looking to read an Author's books back-to-back, David Mitchell is your man.

"Why stick labels on the moon? It's Art." 💛
That it is true Mr. Mitchell, that is true.

I’ve been pondering on this, and as I said to Neale, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was Mitchell’s final book (loathe as I am to think that out loud). It is simply such a perfect way to end.

Upped to 5 ⭐ I still have some of the niggles that influenced my original rating. But this time I'm letting them go through to the keeper. My little frustrations shouldn’t influence what is truly a(nother) masterpiece by David Mitchell.

*** Huge shout out to the amazing, talented Mr. Neale-ski (@nealelucas) who joined me on my Mitchell Odyssey despite having read them all previously. My fellow traveller. And despite my reading speed often being at a 🐌 pace, he encouraged me, and we had amazing discussions. And yes, we finished the David Mitchell-a-thon this year with weeks to spare (well, I did anyway, yay me!) *thank you* 🐛

I invite you Neale's blog✒ https://www.nealesbookblog.com

And also his GR page: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8... ***

My original review from 2020 is below.


" 'I hear knocking. Don't you?' 'Knocking? What's knocking?' 'Opportunity.' ”

You'll smell the patchouli and the rain.

I should say upfront that it probably helps if you have a keen interest in music, and 1960s music at that, to get the most from this story. As well as enjoying the vibe, fashion and thoughts of that period. But how could you not?! If that’s your thing, you’re off to a flying start. And if you’re not, this will make you a new devotee.

This novel is sectioned into three parts, which are three albums, with each chapter being a song title. It’s a clever setup. The chapters are vignettes, which tell the story of one of the four musician’s lives. Via flashbacks which segue to current time, we find out how four strangers become the new über group Utopia Avenue.

“The musical chemistry was good, for four strangers.”

“It’s a whole album of goddamn masterpieces.”

This isn’t just a story about an unknown band who went from playing in uni bars to drunken students to rabid fans in sold out music venues in Italy and New York. It goes deeper. We learn about Elf, Dean, Jasper and Griff as individuals. What makes them tick. Their hopes and dreams. And we meet their families too, which goes a long way to forming the people they are.

Of course this book features the A-Z of fabulousness from the late 1960s. Cameos from real life musicians and people in music and show biz abound. It’s like a “who’s who” of amazement. I had an absolute blast reading about them all, and loved how they were incorporated into the story.

David Bowie (already fabulous), Brian Jones ”appears in a cape, beads and gold.”, Syd Barrett (off the planet), Keith Moon (not far behind), John Lennon (looking for his mind under a table), “Lenny” Cohen (oh you smooth operator!), Janis Joplin (telling it like it is sister)…sigggghhhh (Patsy and Eddy would be beside themselves).

We see them in their brilliant otherness. At parties, revealing utter truths, while talking in riddles. Wine, champagne and a smorgasbord of chemical and herbal substances help the party along. Even royalty is spotted ”Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon pass by…” I revelled in these snippets, as they were just so gloriously over the top and fabulous. Just like the times they were set in.

Even the infamous "people don’t die in" Chelsea Hotel gets a look in.

” ‘Syd’s here? There’s too many famous people at this party. It’s bloody ridiculous. Just bumped in Hendrix coming out o’ the bog.’ ”

The excesses, the obsequious nature of “making it”, the rip-offs, the drink, the drugs, the groupies, the sex. It’s all here.

Let’s meet the band.

Question: What do you get if you cross an Angry Young Bassist, a folk-scene doyenne, a Stratocaster demigod and a jazz drummer? Answer: Utopia Avenue, a band like no other.”

ELF Elizabeth Frances Holloway (keyboardist, folksinger, backing vocalist)

The token female in the group. Struggling to have her musicianship and opinions taken seriously. She's a folk singer in her own right. Elf has an off again/on again relationship outside of the group, and is trying to figure out her sexuality and how to define herself as a modern woman in a changing world. Having equal value and voice to the men in the band. To make her mark musically, and be accepted as a musician in her own right. You have to remember this was a time when once a woman was married, she gave up work.

"Watch. Watch how everyone reacts to one of my ideas, compared to an idea from a guy. Watch and learn.”
"Phobias are irrational...that’s the point.”
"But you should know: patriarchy is a stitch-up."
"’If I had three wishes’, says Elf, ‘I’d let you have one.’"

DEAN Dean Moss/Moffatt (vocals, the bass player)

Dean is my favourite character. I had a soft spot for him, as his chapters ripped my heart to shreds. The honest rawness. Living in the shadow of an alcoholic father, his upbringing was tough. His chapters impacted me the most. Dean carries around a chip on his shoulder, and has an inner sadness, which he hides under a front of bravado. Despite it all, he’s a gem.

“Yer should always look a gift horse in its mouth. They’re never gifts.”
“Time’s a fire-extinguisher...”
"Yer can’t wish your life away. Can yer?’"

JASPER Jasper de Zoet (guitar god and prodigy)

Jasper is undoubtedly a complex character. And a very troubled one. He is fabulously and naturally artistic. He doesn’t view the world the same way that the ‘normals’ do. But as my good friend Collin (who I buddy read this with) observed ”Genius is only inches away from madness.”. That is so true. And describes the plight of Jasper’s being perfectly. He suffers. His mental battles are such a major part of the story. They were as equally fascinating to read as they were painful and harrowing. I loved the esoteric questions thrown up around Jasper’s character, that went off to another realm. All of the imponderable “What ifs…”.

“ ‘I don’t know if it’s demonic possession or madness or a brain tumour,’ said Jasper, ‘but this is killing me.’ ”

“Why do you want to destroy me?’”

I loved seeing the world through Jasper’s eyes. Hands down, the best observations about society, life and art come from him. He has a keen eye, a razor sharp mind and an unfailing inability to tell anything other than what is on his mind. This is one deep thinker who feels too much.

“A person is a thing who leaves.”
“Generations pass. Aesthetiques evolve.Why is this fact a threat?”
“Why stick labels on the moon? It's Art."
“The reality isn't at all like the fantasy.”
" 'Overnight success,' says Jasper, 'takes a few years.' ”

GRIFF Peter Griffin (the drummer)

Griff’s a northern lad who’s a rough diamond. What you see is what you get. No pretensions here. Just good solid drumming. And no bullsh*t friendship. He calls it as he sees it.

“Groupies are groupies. They want a pop star. They don't want me.”
"The musician's life isn't what it's cracked up to be from the outside. ”
"We've all got a sob story, but we don't all act like bolshy pricks."

There are references made to the cultural and civic unrest in the late 1960s, such as the Vietnam war, the air of change with demonstrations and peace protests. The Summer of Love slowly grinding to a halt. It’s an interesting mix of how music fed off cultural events, and how creativity was fuelled by world events.

I had a few niggles that I couldn't let go through to the keeper, so am shaving off half a star. There were some sexual comments and jokes which just fell flat for me. And there was a throwaway line about Nick Drake which annoyed me.

But other than that *WOW*.

The ending left me devastated. Even as I was reading it, as though in slow motion, my mind was crying out “Nooooooo”. I could see what was happening, but didn't want it to. It left me feeling quite wrung out and emotional. Not how I imagined it would end at all. I thought it would be the atypical crash and burn hot mess of stardom. But this took me for a six. Could it have ended any other way? I don’t know. Another book with a - dare I say it - perfect ending.

Overall this book is mind blowing. It is an absolute mega universe . It’s huge, a veritable tome. But you won’t notice the amount of pages at all. The story is as busy and dynamic as the psychedelic cover. It captures a moment. David Mitchell hits the brief by bottling the essence of a specific brief, burning time, that will never occur again.

4.5⭐full to bursting stars. It would be totes amazeballs to read this while listening to an accompanying soundtrack, incense burning, under the light of a lava lamp.

“If we could read the script of the future, we'd never turn the page.”

*** Please have a look at Kyle's sensational review. I read it many months ago (before this book had been released). Wow. I just knew I'd have to read Utopia Avenue. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ***

*** And a very loud shout out to Collin, who I buddy read this with. He always picks the best books to share with me. To challenge me. Another winner. Gold! Make sure you have a look at his thoughts as he's a David Mitchell aficionado from way back.

“Should music mirror change? Should music try to trigger change? Can it?”

There’s a great interview with David Mitchell and ABC radio's gorgeous Indira Naidoo (the link is below). It’s a fabulous insight into the creative process. David chats about music, and its influence on society. Particularly in the 1960s when music was pivotal in documenting the thoughts and feelings of cultural and societal change. Those “glimpses of utopia”.

Profile Image for fourtriplezed .
464 reviews101 followers
February 19, 2021
David Mitchell quotes one famous rock musician saying that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” I had read this quote before and that there was some debate as to who said it.

Whoever said it may have had a point depending on one’s view on the topic of writing about music. Writing about any of the arts in general is fraught with danger. Aesthetic values are a very individual pursuit, as is reading and then reviewing a book on Goodreads. I was telling some work colleagues who are immersed in film and TV culture about a novel I recently finished and explained the length; rather long, the prose; deeply thought provoking; and the final outcome; a youthful pursuit of the arts and spirituality. “That author wrote all that for just that?” blurted out one colleague. Yeah, the author did write all “that for just that” and I personally loved that. Maybe it was dancing to architecture. So can this be applied to Utopia Avenue? Mitchell admits it as such by his use of that metaphor and if he is nothing else he is at least honest about that. His long tome is just a generic rock and roll band story and for vast parts of the story is mere dancing to architecture.

I have written elsewhere that I received advice that it was a good idea to read Mitchell’s works in order, just start at the very beginning. That was the best advice ever given to me about a specific writer’s oeuvre. Yes, many will love this as a stand-alone book, I understand that, but I suspect that plenty will need to do a bit of research because the usual Mitchell jigsaw puzzle pieces that are references to his past writings are littered throughout this reading journey. First time Mitchell readers will not understand some rather subtle nods and winks, Chetwynd Mews anybody? One major character, Jasper De Zoet, is an obvious jigsaw puzzle piece. So what makes this rock and roll story mostly generic is tempered with what Mitchell’s admirers have come to know and love, his great big uber novel pretensions. I like his uber novel pretensions but then I like some rather pretentious music and will willingly dance to that kind of architecture.

Did I like this novel? Yes I did but I don’t think it is anywhere near his others novels for inventiveness alone. For me it is just another rock and roll story with the originality, and at its best, the uber novel pretences. These will be obvious to long time readers of Mitchell. I now hope that David Mitchell writes that operatic novel I am sure he once said he was interested in writing. I think I would find that much more interesting than the rock music of the 60’s. I find nothing particularly interesting about an LSD riven rock star singing in the corner of a party somewhere “have you got it yet?” even if it is a nod and a wink to some (admittedly) very good research on the era. I prefer the puzzle pieces of the fantasy rock star guitar player Jasper De Zoet much more to be honest. I just might be in a minority on this matter I suspect.

I recommend this to those that want a very readable novel about the late 60’s music scene.
I recommend to those that like to research those obscure references to music history.
I also recommend it to those that know their music history.
I recommend it to those that like the uber novel concept.
I recommend it to those that like to dance to all things architectural.
Profile Image for Peter.
502 reviews608 followers
July 26, 2020
A couple of years ago, I attended an event in Dublin where two authors chose a treasured album and talked about its effect on their lives. One of them was David Mitchell, and he selected Blue by his namesake Joni. He spoke passionately about his admiration for this record, dissecting its lyrics and rhapsodizing about his favourite tracks. Mitchell's deep knowledge and love of music shone through, so when he mentioned that his next book was about a British rock group, set in 1967, it shot instantly to the top of my most wanted list.

Utopia Avenue is the fictional band in question, handpicked by Levon Frankland, a Canadian manager living in London. Dean Moss is the first recruit, a handsome bass player down on his luck when destiny calls. The enigmatic Jasper de Zoet becomes the lead guitarist, a genius who is haunted by his own unusual demons. Elf Holloway brings a folk element to the band, a gifted songwriter coming to terms with her sexuality. Drummer Griff rounds out the group, a no-nonsense Northerner with valuable experience from the jazz circuit. The quartet gel straightaway and the songs come together quite easily, such is their musical prowess. We follow the band as they play some dodgy gigs, get to hear their singles on the radio, and appear on Top of the Pops, before trying to make it in America. Success does not come without a cost however. Mental breakdowns, prison and much worse feature in their journey to becoming one of the most popular rock groups of the late 60s.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this story were the cameos from real-life rock stars. David Bowie, Janis Joplin and even John Lennon make memorable appearances, among many more. They never outstay their welcome, showing up for a page or two at most, but they feel very true to their real-life persona, bringing elements of colour and authenticity to the saga of a band that of course, never existed.

I also liked the way the band members talk about the challenges of songwriting, and I suppose Mitchell can equate it with his own trials in creating fiction. For Jasper it can be exasperating at times:
"Writing is a forest of faint paths, dead-ends, hidden paths, unresolved chords, words that won't rhyme. You can be lost in there for hours. Days, even."
People often ask him where he gets the ideas for his lyrics, and it's not as magical as one would expect. In fact, it's difficult for him to describe the process without putting them to sleep:
"It’s hard to talk about writing. I get my words from the same place where you get yours: the language that calls itself “English”. What catches your eye, or ear, are the combinations I put those words into. Ideas float in, like seeds, from the world, from art, from dreams. Or they just occur to me. I don’t know how or why. Then I’ll have a line, which I try to massage so it scans into the rhythm of the whole. I have to consider rhyme, too. Am I choosing an easily rhyme-able last word? Is it too easy to rhyme? Cliché that way lies. Never rhyme “fire” with “desire”. Or “hold me tight” with “tonight”. If it’s too artful, it sounds contrived. “Pepsi Cola” and “Angola”."

One or two reviews I came across in the media dismissed this novel as boring. For me it was anything but. Maybe it helps to have an interest in rock to get the most out of it. And it could be said that the journey of Utopia Avenue is rather predictable, but isn't its aim to reflect the path of a typical band during this seminal period of popular music? In any case I thoroughly enjoyed it. With a cast of likable, unforgettable characters, Utopia Avenue captures the impact music can have on a life and spirit of the swinging sixties in a joyous, vibrant way.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,412 followers
October 17, 2020
When the hefty ARC of Utopia Avenue turned up in my mailbox, it immediately felt promising to me. Sure, I’d never read any David Mitchell (sorry), but of course I’d heard many great things, and the plot of this novel—concerning a rock band in sixties London—sounded amazing. (It didn’t hurt that both the title and the cover reminded me of my beloved Telegraph Avenue—although I have no idea if that will delight or annoy most Mitchell fans.)

At the beginning, Utopia Avenue seemed poised to live up to its promise: an immediate immersion in the streets of London and the life of Dean, a hangdog coffee-shop employee and unemployed bassist whose life is about to change for the better. It was funny and lively and vivid, with a great sense of character and place. Then the band got together and the whole thing fell apart. There’s Dean’s typical tale of a groupie-chasing musician with daddy issues. There’s guitarist Jasper, whose story of mental illness was also fairly typical until it suddenly wasn’t, devolving in a way that didn’t work for me at all. (Yes, I'm aware ) And there’s pianist Elf, the only female in the band and the only member whose story revolves around her relationships with others rather than her own goals, issues, and dreams. There’s also a drummer, Griff, who intrigued me but who never got his own storyline at all. Poor drummers.

As for the writing, some sections (all Elf’s, of course) were sentimental and maudlin in a way I wasn’t expecting and found excruciating. And even when these rock ‘n’ rollers were engaging in sex and drugs, the whole thing felt weirdly stodgy, even dull. The numerous encounters with famous musicians of the time all felt fake, forced, and corny, and Janis Joplin unforgivably sounded English (really hope an editor fixed that before the final publication). If I’m being honest, I found this so tedious I had to take a break midway through. I had to force myself to finish. And then I hated the ending so much I wondered if it was even worth it. Maybe my expectations were too high, but really, why shouldn’t they have been? It’s David Mitchell we’re talking about here.

I know some people are going to love this, either because they love it, or because they’re loyal Mitchell fans, or both. I really don’t want to argue with anyone. If people love it, I’m glad for them. I didn’t love it.

I won this ARC in a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Thank you to the publisher.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,080 reviews621 followers
September 24, 2022
I wasn’t convinced I was doing the right thing by spending an Audible credit on a long (over 25 hours) audiobook from an writer I’d only had one experience with – a bad one as it happened. I found the author’s Cloud Atlas impressively clever but nonetheless pretty much incomprehensible, so why would I dip my toe in that particular pond again? Well, simply because I’d heard really good things about it.

Utopia Avenue is a band, put together in 1967 by Canadian manager Levon Franklin. It comprises an eclectic group of characters:

Folk singer & keyboard player Elf Holloway
Gravesend born and raised bass guitarist Dean Moss
Netherlands born lead guitarist Jasper de Zoet
Gruff Yorkshireman Griff (I think his surname was mentioned once but I missed it)

All but Griff also write songs and tend to sing lead on the titles they pen. But that’s getting ahead of myself, the book takes us through the process of building the band and gives us a pretty good introduction to each of the players along the way. Late 1960’s London, where the early action is centred, is brilliantly brought alive and each of the characters are instantly engaging in their own way. There’s plenty of humour here and I enjoyed the reminder of lots of very English things that found their way into this section, for example: attitudes, products and phrases that have long since been pretty much binned from modern life.

As the band finds some success Mitchell provides full-on descriptions of their playing, together with song lyrics and plenty of cameo appearances from notable music figures of the day – including Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Little Richard, Brian Jones, John Lennon and loads of other musicians plus writer Alan Ginsberg, artist Francis Bacon and even the despised disc jockey Jimmy Saville. And the reader, Andrew Wincott, does a brilliant job of bringing these figures to life with a full array of accents. There’s also a weird section here that felt straight out of a surreal novel by Haruki Murakami. Yes, Mitchell has thrown the kitchen sink at this one.

Of course, the path to fame is not a seamless one. Along the way we witness the full gamut of sexual awakening, family conflict, drugs, jail and death. But despite the inclusion of some darker moments the majority of this story is just great fun; I wished them all success and cheered for them when they found it. It’s a rollicking tale that grabbed me early on and then dragged me along as a willing spectator. It’s a book that’s about as far removed from Cloud Atlas as I think it’s possible to get, and all the better for it as far as I’m concerned.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
July 23, 2020
I find David Mitchell a slightly frustrating writer, but there is always plenty to enjoy in his books. As I have said before, I find the fantasy elements of his imaginary world and his battling immortals far fetched and impossible to take seriously, but when he writes about subjects more grounded in reality he can be engaging and perceptive.

Music and musicians are notoriously difficult subject matter for literature, but for me this book does it pretty well, and I found it a lot more convincing than Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

It tells the story of the eponymous fictional psychedelic pop-rock band, mostly in 1967 and 1968. The band's four members include three very different songwriters, and the structure of the book reflects this - each song on each of the band's three albums gets a chapter that follows its writer through some of the events that inspired it.

Inevitably, one of the three, guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet, is a host for one of Mitchell's immortal spirits, and as always there are plenty of links to his earlier books, but for me the other two main characters are more interesting. Dean Moss is perhaps the most typical rock star - a humble background from a troubled working class family in Gravesend, and an obsession with money and the trappings of fame. Elf Holloway is the band's keyboard player, something of a hybrid of Sandy Denny (whose folk background she shares, and also the unreliable Australian partner, and the hit American cover of an early song, in Denny's case Judy Collins and Who Knows Where the Time Goes) and Christine McVie, whose role in the band is closer to Elf's.

The band's journey includes many encounters with real musicians, and some of the anecdotes are based on stories associated with these real characters. I think all of the real people that the band meet are now dead, but this is never explicitly mentioned or explained. Inevitably these encounters lack depth and in some cases are just fleeting conversations, but that reflects the nature of music journalism.

Mitchell's credits mention Joe Boyd's White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, and Boyd's story was clearly a major influence - the band's idealistic manager Levon Frankland shares many of Boyd's qualities, and many of the details are reminiscent of things that happened with Fairport Convention (who were one of Boyd's successes).

The recreation of the late 60s setting is fairly convincing and affectionate, and Mitchell largely avoids the more obvious pitfalls associated with writing about music and particularly describing fictional pieces, and the many real stories about the less glamorous side of life in bands offer plenty of scope for balance and entertaining escapades.

I don't want to be too critical - I found the story very readable, and was surprised how quick a read it was for such a large heavy book. So yes, another curate's egg, but for the most part a successful one.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,536 followers
July 25, 2020
Wonderfully refreshing and fun tale of the birth and rapid rise of a British folk-rock band in the interval of 1967-68. The characters are vivid and the portrayal of their trials and tribulations are moving and touching, their triumphs at various stages exhilarating. A guilty pleasure for me was all the cameo appearances and formative interactions with many famous musicians, such as Janis, Jimi, Bowie, Sandy Denny and Leonard Cohen. After a slow period of hard-knocks, the tale accelerates after their first successful recording and we get delightful interludes amid London’s Soho crown and, on an American tour, at the Chelsea Hotel in New York, Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, and the psychedelic San Francisco scene.

The band is born through the creative efforts of their manager Levon to bring musicians together, sort of like the puzzle of forging a fantasy baseball team. He makes the blend of a female folk singer and keyboardist named Elf, who of middle class background; Jasper, a Dutch-born rock guitarist of upper class origins; Dean, a blues-oriented bass player from working-class London; and Griff, a versatile, working class jazz drummer from Yorkshire. That the first three each compose their own songs and lyrics enhances their strengths in the same vein as the Beatles. My mind imagines a fusion of folk and rock such as that of “Fairport Convention” and “The Band.”

Different music reviewers marvel at their blend:
Take a prime cut of Pink Floyd, add a dash of Cream, a pinch of Dusty Springfield, marinade overnight and whaddya get?...

What do you get when you cross an Angry Young Bassist, a folk-scene doyenne, a Stratocaster demigod, and a jazz drummer? Answer: Utopia Avenue, a band like no other.

I loved how Mitchell develops the separate characters as they work through their own personal demons, ambitious egos, and jealousies toward successes in fulfillment of their talent. They forge a provisional family and support each other in overcoming challenging family backgrounds, their initial low status and money prospects, and costly mistakes with drugs and sex or trust in the wrong people. Elf and manager Levon struggle with LGBT issues, Jasper with mental illness, Dean with delusion of grandeur and anger management, and Griff with alcohol abuse, but together they are resilient and keep each other afloat.

I was amazed how Mitchell made the paradoxes of the era come alive, such as the collision of widespread social commitment to political change and equally pervasive retreat into the alluring narcissism captured by the phrases “drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll” and “turn on, tune in, drop out”. We get to experience how it was that such great music was spawned between the time of the ‘Summer of Love’ and the dark days of relentless expansion of the Vietnam War, campus riots, and assassinations of heroes like Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Personally, music felt like a key to my survival then as at ages 16-17 I strove with attaining a sense of identity and some kind of agency in the confusing times.

I have read many books about the lives and times of artists and musicians, fiction and non-fiction, always seeking some clues to understanding the profound mysteries of the creative process. Always I have ended up disappointed or teased with little glimmers of elucidation amid much hand-waving over the magic. Mitchell comes the closest of all to believable revelations about how creative success emerges from the harnessing of talent to experience. As a good example, here is Elf working on a tune in the aftermath of the loss of a family member (with interior thought in single quotes instead of the author’s italics):

Elf sits at a piano in a deserted function room at the Cricketer’s Arms and practices arpeggios. …Elf senses a melody is waiting. ‘Sometimes they find you, …but sometimes you track it like the lie of the land, by clues, by scent almost.’ … Elf draws a stave as a statement of intent. She settles on E flat minor—'such a cool scale’--with her right hand and plays harmonies and disharmonies with her left to see what sparks fly off. ‘Art is unbiddable; all you can do is signal your readiness.’ Wrong turns, eliminated, reveal the right path. ‘Like love.’
Elf carries on, linking rightness with the net rightness along. ‘Art is sideways. Art is diagonal.’ She tries flipping it, playing bass arpeggios with a treble overlay. ‘Art is tricks of the light’ She happens upon a middle section—'a glade in the forest, full of bluebells’--that she half identifies as, and half creates from “The Lord is My Shepherd”—played upside down. She reprises the opening themes at the end. ‘It’s changed by the middle. Like innocence changed by experience’. She plays with rubato, legato and dynamics. She runs through the whole thing. It works. ‘A few rough edges, sure, but …’ Nothing strained. Nothing naff. Nothing staid. No words. No title. No hurry, Not yet. She murmurs, “Bloody hell, you’re good.”

A local manager for their tour in Italy boils down the special contribution of each band member to their repertoire:
Your songs, Elf, they say, ‘Life is sad, is joy, is emotion.’ Is universal. Jasper, your songs say, ‘Life is strange, is wonderful, is a dream.’ Who does not feel so, sometimes? Dean, your songs say, ‘Life is a battle, is hard, but you is not alone.’ You, Greef, you is a drummer intuitivo.

The overall thrust of the narrative is toward realism. Yet, you can see the book gets tagged ‘science fiction’ on some lists. This is because there are many interludes with Jasper struggling with his mental illness, which feels to him like an odd form of possession, and we get some amazing breakthroughs into magical realism replete with characters from “The Bone Clocks” and “Slade House”. Fans of Mitchell are likely aware that he considers all of his work to be part of a single meta-novel. Thus, there is some extra pleasure here on progress toward that end and the illusion that everything is connected across history, as made most manifest in his marvelous “Cloud Atlas”. We are primed for such linkages by Jasper’s surname of “De Zoet” and the title of Mitchell’s novel set in 18th century Japan, “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.” The fun for me of the appearance or references to various characters from his past novels resembles that of the hidden “Easter Eggs” one used to be able to uncover in many computer programs and games after providing the right combination of keystrokes.

This book was provided by the publisher for review through the Netgalley program.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,792 reviews4,422 followers
August 23, 2020
David Mitchell's new novel is the history of a fictional band. Utopia Avenue form in 1967, as the hippy idealism of the free-love Sixties is colliding with the bleeding edge of rock 'n' roll. There are four members, three of whom get their own detailed backstories and subplots. Elf is a folk singer battling sexism and figuring out her sexuality. Jasper is a posh, eccentric guitar prodigy, heavily implied to be on the autistic spectrum ('emotional dyslexia' is the term used in the book). Dean, the bassist, has been dirt poor all his life, and is haunted by a difficult relationship with his father. Griff is a jazz drummer from Yorkshire whose character is less developed than the others.

Utopia Avenue differs from the other Mitchell novels I've read in that it follows a straight narrative, telling Utopia Avenue's story over the course of a couple of years as they rise to fame, briefly enjoy its rewards, then come to an unceremonious end. It still exists within the author's extended universe: there are appearances from/references to Luisa Rey, 'the Mongolian', Robert Frobisher and Marinus; Jasper's surname is de Zoet; as ever, I'm sure there's plenty I missed. There are fantastical elements too, mostly in Jasper's story – he is plagued by a knocking sound in his head, and his belief that this is the trapped consciousness of another person seems, eventually, to prove correct. Mostly, though, Utopia Avenue concerns itself with a detailed full-colour portrait of the music scene in the late 1960s, from scuzzy venues in small English towns to decadent celebrity parties in LA. Virtually every musician who was famous in 1967–68 makes a cameo appearance in this book.

And I have mixed feelings about it. The way I felt about Utopia Avenue reminded me of the way I've felt about other literary novels by accomplished authors which I liked and admired but didn't feel able to love, for example The Bass Rock and Cleanness. For the most part, the characters are fairly well-rounded, the writing is assured, and the description portrays the era/setting effectively. The ingredients are all there. But my moment of connection with the story is missing. I'm wondering where it is when I'm 50 pages in, and I'm wondering the same thing hundreds of pages later, and at the end... I'm still wondering.

I sometimes think that when novels are this painstakingly devoted to recreating their epoch, some of the magic is lost. Utopia Avenue is technically good, but it never quite crosses the line from 'a series of well-written chapters about made-up people' to whatever alchemy it is that makes a novel truly extraordinary. I think I might prefer something a bit rougher around the edges and less imaginatively restrained.

I'd still rank this above The Bone Clocks, but below Ghostwritten, Slade House, Cloud Atlas and number9dream. More than any of Mitchell's work, it's reminiscent of L.R. Fredericks' novels, especially The Book of Luce. (Lots of other reviews mention Daisy Jones & The Six, but really the only thing this has in common with Daisy Jones is that they're both essentially biographies of fictional bands.)

I received an advance review copy of Utopia Avenue from the publisher through Edelweiss.

TinyLetter | Linktree
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
July 14, 2020
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. Set in London when “new labels are springing up like mushrooms,” “Utopia Avenue” is a story of creative synthesis, one of those astonishing moments when a few disparate individuals suddenly fall into harmony and change the sound of an era. 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. On a dark day in 1967 when the novel opens, Dean Moss, a bass player, gets evicted from his apartment and fired from his cafe job. Across town, a folk musician nicknamed Elf has been dumped by her. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,113 followers
August 3, 2020
I'm a huge fan of David Mitchell (I couldn't fit all the books into the picture) and this novel was highly anticipated, *and* I love novels with a music theme. This novel is about a band in 1960s UK, and the chapters move between their perspectives as new songs are written and recorded (the sections of the book are grouped by sides.) There are a lot of connections to his other works, because everything is all part of one übernovel - those parts were very fun to discover but I won't spoil them here. My only sadness is that it is over....
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,819 reviews1,375 followers
December 1, 2020
a song Dean had written for a soundtrack expanded, like fractals, into a three-part unfinished masterpiece

I sat down to write this review, as something of a maybe-reader of David Mitchell’s novels (a huge fan of his earlier works, but less than convinced by his most recent efforts), they were the best-of-books (culminating in Cloud Atlas) and the worst-of-books (“Slade House” – which was a kind of twitter-feed, novella, other).

But while I was trying to write it, I was constantly interrupted: a surprisingly literate down-and-out type character asked me if there was any chance I could pay him to write a review, then a Englishman with a half-Durham, half-English accent asked if I would review his book “Upstate” instead.

Now what do you think of that as a book review.

Do you think

a) That is brilliant. Gumble’s Yard has cleverly worked in references to some of his most liked book reviews – for a fan of his reviews that is so clever.

b) While writing about reviewing he has two famous reviewers playing cameos in the review – for someone who loves book reviews that is just fabulous?

c) Isn’t a review meant to actually tell you something about the book – what is unique about it, what’s at its core, what are its weaknesses

Or actually (d) your reactions to (a) and (b) tell you everything you need to know about (c).

(*) Milkman, Ali’s Smith’s Seasonal Quartet and Girl, Woman, Other
(**) Nicholas Lezard and James Wood


I actually wrote the above ahead of the book’s publication and well before reading it – just based on what I had read about the book in previews and advanced reviews, but I think it still stands as a perfect summary of the book with the correct answer being (d).

My own views of the book can be basically summarised as

I loved what Mitchell did with (a) from the minor characters (and the way they play a crucial role in the band’s evolution) to the major characters – particularly the way in which he draws together the most obscure parts of “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” and his most obscure book “Bone Clocks” to explain the behaviour of the lead guitarist.

I really did not like what he did with (b) – while I appreciated the way in which he drew on real life pop stars as inspiration for his fictional characters, and had those characters discussing real songs and bands and their interactions with real pop stars – the actual cameo appearances themselves tended to be at best gratuitous and at worse excruciating.

But overall its David Mitchell, he writes so well naturally and I love his overall experiment in writing a series of connected novels – his own fractal-like multi-part unfinished masterpiece: the Mitchellverse.

4.5 stars rounded down for the cameos.
Profile Image for Ορφέας Μαραγκός.
Author 7 books36 followers
January 9, 2022
Η χρονιά τελείωσε με αυτό το γαμάτα καταπληκτικό βιβλίο, και η νέα χρονιά αρχίζει με ένα άδοξο τέλος.

Αρχικά το πρώτο πράγμα που θα κάνει κάποιος διαβάζοντας αυτό το βιβλίο, είναι να γκουγκλαρει τον τίτλο. Utopia Avenue. Ρε μπας και υπήρχε στ' αλήθεια αυτή η μπάντα κι εγώ δεν έχω πάρει χαμπάρι; Μπας κι ο Γιάσπερ είναι καμιά μουσική ιδιοφυΐα, ο Γκρίφ κανένας τζάζ κλασικ γίγαντας της φιούζιον σκηνής, η ελφ μια φωνάρα που ακούς τυχαία στο ραδιόφωνο και κόλλας με τη μουσική της λίγο πριν την ξεχάσεις; Και μήπως ο Ντιν ήταν πράγματι ένας ροκ αστέρας που εδυσε πριν ακόμη προλάβει να λάμψει;

Ε λοιπόν όχι. Αυτή η μπάντα δεν γεννήθηκε στο μυαλό του Λεβον, αλλά στο μυαλό του Μίτσελ. Και αυτό το βιβλίο είναι α π ί σ τ ε υ τ ο.

Ο Μίτσελ αναπλάθει όλη την ατμόσφαιρα των 60'ς και εκεί μέσα αφήνει του χαρακτήρες του να ανθίσουν. Ευρηματικό, αισθητικά υπέροχο, και με μια παρελάσει όλων των γαμημενων αστέρων, κυρίως των γωνιών μας κακά τα ψέματα, είναι ένα καταπληκτικό βιβλίο.

Συνήθως βιβλία τέτοιου όγκου με αποθαρρύνουν. Στο μυαλό μου οι σύγχρονοι συγγραφείς γράφουν ωκεανούς λέξεων επειδή στην συγκριτική λογοτεχνία διδάχθηκαν Προυστ. Ωστόσο εδώ δεν έχουμε ένα τέτοιο παράδειγμα. Του έδωσα 100 σελίδες, αλλά στην 30 σκεφτόμουν "γαμωτο είναι μόνο 700 σελίδες".

Επειδή τα πολλά λόγια είναι φτώχεια, μουσικόφιλοι και μη, λάτρεις των σιξτις, άνθρωποι σκύλοι και γατιά, αυτό είναι ένα μικρό διαμάντι που πρέπει να ανακαλύψετε άμεσα. Κάντε ένα δώρο στ@ν ευτ@ σας και διαβάστε το.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,099 followers
September 14, 2020
I place this Mitchell novel in the firm hands of the ladies Muse not because it is gifted by the muses (although some people will say so) but because the tale is all about music and the entire gifted milieu of the mid-to-late '60s rock scene.

For this, alone, I got sucked into the torrent of the band. Utopia Avenue, from its struggling beginnings through its rocky career and a brief taste of stardom is more than enough for me. I love this kind of novel. I love music, I love the rebellion, I love the sheer chutzpah of MAKING A NEW REALITY for yourself.

There is one particular scene that reads like a fateful monologue and admonition for every age. The only real power we have is in stories, after all. We show the path to a new world. That story might be in a song, a novel, or in an impassioned plea to a loved one, but it's never not powerful.

I had a genuinely good time with this.

I may not have been alive during the time this takes place, but music and the heart are fairly eternal.

PS, yes, this book has a ton of weird Mitchellisms with fantasy and SF poking holes in the pretty standard traditional tale of the '60s. It doesn't say much NEW about these things, but it's still fun to see. :)
Profile Image for Neale .
308 reviews142 followers
November 23, 2022
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.

This was another buddy read with the wonderful Nat K and we had a ball talking about all of the old bands we loved, the ones we got to see live, the collection of records and cd’s we had. Please check out her review when she posts it.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
617 reviews767 followers
July 31, 2020
Here's a timely reminder of what we are all missing* in these 'extraordinary times': the buzz, the energy, the thrill, the joy, the rush of real live musicians playing in front of a real live audience. There's nothing like it.

Except, perhaps, a novel by David Mitchell.

Gleefully energetic, compulsively readable, and the banter between the band members is a blast. As for the weird horology stuff where Mitchell refers back to his previous oeuvre, well, you can read that however you like. It's either nonsense or a terribly deep metaphor, or both, or neither. By the time I had spotted Frobisher and Luisa Rey and a N9D hospital ward, been confronted by psychosedation or mnemo-parallax, I was hooked, my only concern was for Jasper and the other band members, not making sense of supernatural elements.

Hooked like a fish, chasing the juicy fat maggot.

'The mystery o' fishin's this,' said Dean's dad, 'what's the hook, who's got the rod, what's the maggot, what's the fish?'
'Why's that a mystery, Dad?'
'Yer'll understand when yer older.'
'But ain't it obvious what's what?'
'It changes, son. In a heartbeat.'

*Apart from hugs with family members that live an ocean away, of course.

Profile Image for Tony.
918 reviews1,554 followers
August 10, 2020
I have this principle that I shouldn't start a review until I have answered that most fundamental of questions: Did I like the book? And I've spent the four days since I finished this book cogitating about that.

Oh, I agree with a lot of what's said in the growing negative reviews. Some parts of the book, some characters, are stereotyped and shallow. The name-dropping made me wince. Names and ideas are recycled from previous books. When the plot gets written into a corner, then like a deus ex machina, just transmigrate a few souls. The camera says Click, scrit-scrit, childishly.

But looking over my notes I saw this again: Drums were here before we are. The rhythms of our mothers' hearts.

And, too, this other couplet: "The dead can't sign peace treaties. And he's still yer dad."

And there was this sisterly dialogue:

"Bea, tell me something. I've been to university. I've dropped out of university. I've survived the music scene for three years. You're still at school. How come you know so much while I know bugger-all? How does that work?"
"Basically," Bea hugs her sister goodbye, "I don't believe people." She let her sister go. "Basically, you do."

Bea, by the way, was my favorite character, although a relatively minor one. She disappears too early, although nothing bad happens to her. Maybe Mitchell tired of her; or, more likely, he's saving her for his next novel.

In just a few pages I saw these aphorisms:

- Self-pity can lift one's mood.

- Grief is the bill of love, fallen due.

- Your best teachers aren't always your friends. Sometimes your best teachers are your mistakes.

- One spoon of Dylan makes a gallon of meanings.

An author can write about then and a reader can read about now:

New revolutionaries have grabbed the megaphones. Humorless ones. The ones who quote Che Guevara like he's a close personal friend. 'It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.' They'll say, 'You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs,' as if a demonstrator's spine, or a policeman's skull, or an elderly widow's window is only an egg.

It made me think that today's demonstrators, the ones with the spray cans of paint, the rocks and guns and their faces shouting inches away from a policeman's, are the same as those who once shouted 'Babykillers' at returning servicemen.

And we're tearing down statues now. As if he knew, Mitchell has one of the main characters, a schizophrenic, walking through New York during a florid episode. He sees this: Statues' faces are easier to read than people's--George Washington is not pleased to be there. And this: He leaves Central Park and finds a statue on a tall pillar on a traffic island. Christopher Columbus has lost his way and it's later than he thought. So, maybe not so crazy.

A lot of this book is about songwriting, the creation of a song, and some of these chapters are brilliantly done. And there was a vignette where the main female character is going through immigration into America. The immigration officer had a son who died in Vietnam and is giving her a hard time. He waggles her passport and tells her to sing something: "I'm Irish. Sing me something Irish." And so she taps out a 4/4 rhythm on the desk and begins: On Raglan Road on an Autumn Day . . . At the second verse, The immigration's man's Adam's apple bobs. As did this reader's.

So, I choose not to disabuse those who found this book flawed, or lesser. These are things I myself am not sure of.

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. Other can say, "I feel that too."

Like peace treaties, left unsigned. And the rhythm of a heartbeat that still carries me. Click, scit-scrit.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,897 reviews535 followers
July 30, 2020
The blurb describes Utopia Avenue as “the strangest band you’ve never heard of”. I didn’t find the band all that strange. The four 20-something band members seemed pretty standard issue for a folk rock group of the 1960s. They had family problems and money issues. They were growing up and exploring their sexuality as they tried to create their music and get it heard. The guitarist also had serious mental problems. He was the most interesting character.

The author name drops a lot of musicians of that era, but that doesn’t make you feel like you were really there. In fact, I found it distracting and I would have preferred that the band not keep bumping into David Bowie or Jerry Garcia. I also would have preferred that the book be 200 pages shorter. The book held my interest, but I was hoping for more. 3.5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,525 reviews979 followers
January 12, 2021
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”

I couldn’t wish for a better start to my reading journey this year. I might have some reservations about the latest offering from David Mitchell, but the setting and the musical references were right up my alley. “I feel that too” is as good a resume as any for this trip down memory lane. I haven’t felt such a strong personal connection with a story since “Ready Player One” , and I must confess: Mitchell is ten times the writer Ernest Cline could ever hope to be. Plus, computer games were never more than a pleasant way to kill time and a passing addiction to gambling for me, while music, especially the rock scene of the period captured in the book, is an integral part of who I am and of how I look at the world.

Bea asks, “So what does Utopia Avenue sound like?”
Elf chews. “A mix of Dean’s R&B, Jasper’s strange virtuosity, my folk roots, Griff’s jazz ... I only hope the world’s ready for us.”

A Canadian music producer named Levon Frankland comes to London in search of inspiration and success. In 1967, Soho is the name of the game – the place where all the cool cats are gathering, where they experiment with drugs and alcohol and free love and where they try to find new ways to express their rebellion and their identity. Levon gathers together four stray cats, musicians down on their luck with different backgrounds, and pushes them to form a new group.
Dean Moss is the first recruit, a bass player from a working family in Gravesend, marked by an abusive father and by self-doubt. Dean discovered music through American players visiting England with their rhythm & blues tunes, Little Richard in particular.
Elf Holloway is a piano player and folk singer from a well-to-do banking family, who was just dumped by her Australian lover and musical partner. Elf mentions Nina Simone as the catalyst of her musical ambitions.
Peter ‘Griff’ Griffin is a blue-collar drummer from Yorkshire, with some experience on the jazz scene as a session player and a gruff attitude.
Finally, Jasper de Zoet ** is a wizard of the electric guitar, a self-taught virtuoso of the instrument, born in Holland but educated in a posh exclusive school in England. For Jasper it was a meeting with Big Bill Broonzy that set him on the road to musical expression.

** Readers familiar with the work of Mitchell will not be surprised to discover secret links between this novel and other stories penned by the author. An ancestor of Jasper named Jacob was the titular character of an earlier work set in Japan, while later in the novel we come across other familiar faces, like Robert Frobisher, Bat Segundo, Louisa Rey, the Mongolian or Dr. Yu Leon Marinus. I’m sure there are several others I missed, but the fact does point out to a continuity of ideas from one book to the next in the author’s imagination.

“ ‘Utopia’ means ‘no place’. An avenue is a place. So is music. When we’re playing well, I’m here, but elsewhere, too. That’s the paradox. Utopia is unattainable. Avenues are everywhere.”

Five dreamers caught up in the effervescent musical scene of late sixties London, hoping to make a splash, or at least to pay next month’s rent. Before they start playing, they need to rehearse, to find out who they are musically and where they want to go. Apparently, the only thing they have in common is their passion for music, even if each of them arrived there down a different road. Levon brought Utopia Avenue together, but where they go from here is anybody’s guess.

Like Charles Mingus says, writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

Mitchell knows about irony, and about the difficulties of transcribing sounds and images into words. At a first glance his latest novel is an ‘all-you-can-eat musical buffet’ , a detailed step-by-step account of the meteoric rise to fame of a rock supergroup. He has chosen his setting well. London 1967 and California 1968 is where everything was happening, all at once. There would probably never be, before or after, a more turbulent and rich in ideas period in popular music. Dean, Elf, Griff and Jasper meet and mix with the greatest stars on the firmament, with iconic names dropped on every page: from a casual conversation on the stairs with a yet unknown David Bowie, to a drunken conversation with Syd Barret and Steve Marriott in a bar. Jimmy Hendrix, Cream, The Kinks, John Lennon, the painter Francis Bacon or the poet Allen Ginsberg are followed across the pond by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Mama Cass, Frank Zappa, Jerry Garcia or Janis Joplin.

I hope somebody, somewhere compiles a playlist with all the songs mentioned in the novel. I know most of the names, and a lot of the songs included, but I could always listen to a new one from the period, like: the Kinks – “Waterloo Sunset” ; Steve Mariott and the “Small Faces” ; Duane Eddy – “Forty Miles of Bad Road” ; “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” ; Tarrega – “Recuerdos de Alhambra”

But that wasn’t really my point. I loved the name dropping and the gossip part of the novel, but Mitchell was after more than a simple evocation of the period. I love the struggles, the success and the disappointments that mark the band’s journey ( Forty-nine out of fifty acts fail before they get a sniff of fame and fortune. ) but I think the most important angle is in the songwriting. These people, Elf and Dean and Jasper poured their souls into their songs. Elf sings of broken relationships and the loss of innocence, about being a woman in a male-centered world, about emancipation and insecurity.

“Mark should’ve had a lifetime of music. Nursery rhymes, pop songs, dances, and all sorts of music. I don’t want him to, to leave us ... to ... a hymn you play at funerals.”

Dean expresses his anger at abusive authority and social injustice, he sings about freedom and roads into the unknown.

Freedom runs through this story like letters through seaside rock. [...]
It’s inner. It’s limited. It’s fragile. It’s a journey. It’s easily robbed. It’s not selfish. It’s not commandable. Only the not-free can see it. Freedom’s a struggle. Like Paradise is the Road to Paradise , maybe freedom’s the road to freedom.

Jasper is a philosopher and a madman, an enigma and a bomb ready to explode, either in a magnificent fireworks display or in a destructive blast.

We touch something divine. His Stratocaster speaks of ecstasy and despair. We’re not gods, but we are channels for something that is godlike.

Together they are ‘Utopia Avenue’ and they go from obscurity to rowdy student concert halls, to popular underground night spots in Soho, TV appearances on ‘Top of the Pops’, a mildly successful single and, finally, a record deal. Each step is marked by personal roadmarks, either in flashbacks or in new emotional entanglements – and each step is reflected in the music they write together. I believe this is the strength of music as art as opposed to music as a money-making industry. More often that not, it is pain and not happiness that is the catalyst for art, be it music or painting or cinema.

“Once I knew a stable-boy,” says Francis Bacon. “He used to say, ‘Grief is the bill of love, fallen due.’ I can’t recall his face or even his name, but I remember that line. Isn’t it odd, what sticks?”

Mitchell has the rare gift of touching the heart of the matter once he has chosen a setting and a path. His novel ultimately debates the role of art in shaping both the world and our individual lives, of expressing the mystery and the glory of existence. I may have occasional doubts about his methods, especially when he engages in his signature touch of mysticism, but I am as always thrilled by the clarity and the passion of the presentation.

“Can songs change the world?”
“Songs do not change the world. People do. People pass laws, riot, hear God, and act accordingly. People invent, kill, make babies, start wars. Which raises the question. ‘Who or what influences the minds of the people who change the world?’ My answer is ‘Ideas and feelings’. Which begs a question. ‘Where do ideas and feelings originate?’ My answer is, ‘Others. One’s heart and mind. The press. The arts. Stories. Last, but not least songs.’ Songs. Songs, like dandelion seeds, billowing across time and space. Who knows where they’ll land? Or what they’ll bring?”

Jasper de Zoet is once again chosen as the mouthpiece for the group, although I have excellent presentations both from Elf and Dean on the more esoteric aspects of their art. Even Griff is indispensable in the alchemy of transforming ideas and emotions into something more, something inspiring and transcendental. After all, somebody needs to be the solid foundation on which dreams are built on.

“Where will these song-seeds land? It’s the Parable of the Sower. Often, usually, they land on barren soil and don’t take root. But sometimes they land in a mind that is ready. Is fertile. What happens then? Feelings and ideas happen. Joy, solace, sympathy. assurance. Cathartic sorrow. The idea that life could be, should be, better than this. An invitation to slip into somebody else’s skin for a little while. If a song plants an idea or a feeling in a mind, it has already changed the world.”

So I guess it is possible to write about music and dancing, poetry and architecture in a meaningful and entertaining way if your name is David Mitchell.


There is a second novel intricately woven in between the lines of the ‘Utopia Avenue’ fictional biography. It is an unfinished journey that started with the first novel published by the author, with cryptic clues and conspiracy theories scattered around liberally among the nuts and bolts of his regular storytelling. This is where those recurring characters and those multi-generational connections come in to muddle the waters and to leave the reader guessing as to their purpose.

A branch of applied metaphysics called psychosoterica.
Jasper considers the word. "It sounds to me like quack science."

The quote above points towards self-awareness on the part of the author, as does another similar remark by one of those recurring characters, a ghost who unironically exclaims:

The world has too many mystics and too few scientists.

Why then do we need to explore these muddy waters, why engage with these cloak & dagger secret watchmaker organizations? I have some vague inklings, mostly about the need to shake the reader out of his or her comfort zone, forcing us to reconsider the nature of reality:

Labels. I stuck them on everything. ‘Good’. ‘Bad’. ‘Right’. ‘Wrong’. ‘Square’. ‘Hip’. ‘Queer’ . ‘Normal’. ‘Friend’ . ‘Enemy’. ‘Success’. ‘Failure’. They’re easy to use. They save you the bother of thinking. Those labels stay stuck. They proliferate. They become a habit. Soon, they’re covering everything, and everybody, up. You start thinking reality is the labels. Simple labels, written in permanent marker. The trouble is, reality’s the opposite. Reality is nuanced, paradoxical, shifting. It’s difficult. It’s many things at once.

It's a gimmick, a magician’s magic hat. It can provide either a sense of wonder or a skeptical dismissal of the whole process from the starched shirt audience. Is it an integral part of this novel and of other similar works? Only the artist decides, and we will follow, more or less reluctantly, where he leads. I guess the most important part is to keep an open mind. Which was the point of the exercise in the first place:

“I wish I could give you directions, but I’m a stranger here myself.”
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