Review of ‘Utopia Avenue’ by David Mitchell

I didn’t like Cloud Atlas. I didn’t like Slade House. Why did I read another David Mitchell book? Well, I saw it on display at the library and discovered it was about a fictional 1960s rock band (fictional rock / pop bands are one of my interests at the moment). At a whopping 561 pages this novel is seriously bloated. Cut it down to half the size and prioritise story over waffle, then I might have a better opinion of Utopia Avenue.

The story is about four talented musicians from different backgrounds and with very different characters: Griff, Dean, Jasper and Elf. Their band, Utopia Avenue, is sort of psychedelic blues folk rock. The highs and lows of the band and their personal lives are chronicled, including crises of sexuality, drugs, finances, bereavement, prison and even a supernatural magical realism element. I thought the band were likeable, if not very interesting. I appreciated the effort put into the details of the music, dialogue, settings, media and the unnecessary cameo appearances of various famous people (David Bowie, Brian Jones, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, even Jimmy Savile). I just felt that the whole package was too carefully crafted, somehow, so that it didn’t come to life on the page. I did enjoy Utopia Avenue at times, but I spent seven days reading this book and I’m unconvinced it was worth it.

In summary, I’m done with David Mitchell books.

First published in 2020.

2 thoughts on “Review of ‘Utopia Avenue’ by David Mitchell”

  1. I’ve only read one book by David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which is set in Japan in the 17th C. Some people say this is their favourite book ever!! However, even though I found the writing absolute amazing, almost hypnotic, I was left thinking that this guy spent so much time writing beautiful sentences that he actually forgot to write a novel. Now I know a lot of literary fiction is just about writing beautiful sentences LOL! and maybe I am far too conservative in my tastes but I do like story arcs that make sense. I guess there are different books for everyone but after doing so much research I was left wondering why David Mitchell would structure the novel in such a way, what he had achieved by doing this. Maybe I will never know LOL! Or maybe I am too stupid to figure it out…. Like you, I don’t think I will ever be tempted by another of his books.

    1. I think you have summed it up – such lovingly crafted writing but other aspects are lacking. I do enjoy great writing but it can’t be the most important element in a novel for me – I need things to happen! I had heard of Jacob de Zoet and in fact there is some reference to that book in Utopia Avenue.

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