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Utopia Avenue

by David Mitchell

Series: Horologists (4)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8355521,223 (4.05)118
"Soho, London, 1967. Folk-rock-psychedelic quartet Utopia Avenue is formed. Guitarist Jasper de Zoet, a shy, half-Dutch public-school musical prodigy, was hearing voices long before he dropped acid. Keyboardist Elf Holloway must defy the prejudices of her bank manager father, her housewife mother, and her age to forge her own career. Bassist Dean Moss cannot, will not, spend his life on the factory floor like everyone else in Gravesend. Band manager Levon Frankland--gay, Jewish, and Canadian--is not unduly burdened by conscience. The drummer is a drummer. Over two years and two albums, Utopia Avenue navigates the dark end of the Sixties: its parties, drugs and egos, political change and personal tragedy; and the trials of life as a working band in London, the provinces, European capitals and, finally, the promised land of America. What is art? What is fame? What is music? How can the whole be more than the sum of its parts? Can idealism change the world? How does your youth shape your life? This is the story of Utopia Avenue. Not everyone lives to the end"--… (more)
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English (59)  German (1)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
I didn’t get far. Once the characters started talking at length to one another, I had flashbacks to the same irked and puzzled sensation I had reading Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I did finish that book. This one...well, I had a feeling, perhaps unfairly, that I already knew how it would turn out, and the journey was not one I’d find that rewarding.
  sirk.bronstad | Apr 20, 2022 |
This is the first time I’ve ever been disappointed by one of David Mitchell’s books. I confess that a part of it is that it simply didn’t transport me to a time or place far enough way, depicting as it did an up and coming rock band in 1960’s England. The quality of the writing is fine and the characters that Mitchell develops – mainly, the four band members and their manager – are all rendered with enough skill that I was invested in them, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Where the book fell down a bit was in how it used real-life musicians from the period (Brian Jones, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, and many others) as characters; I think Mitchell tried to capture their spirit in the dialogue he puts in their mouths, but to me felt contrived and was a turn-off. The dialogue in general is far too expository, e.g. as the characters explain when the true Summer of Love as in San Francisco was, and how things degenerated when young people flocked the city. It’s not that I disagreed with any of it, but it sounded incredibly inauthentic to how these people should have been speaking in the 1960’s.

The arc of the story seemed a bit formulaic as well – rising from the depths, an auto accident, the pressure from the studio businessmen, etc. And when it does get creative, e.g. the supernatural element to the lead guitarist’s story, which also linked the book to Mitchell’s other writing, I found myself preferring it if it had been a more honest portrayal of schizophrenia, or perhaps autism. There is enough in these characters and their struggles to make the book worth reading, but it probably should have been shorter, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone new to David Mitchell as the place to start with him. ( )
2 vote gbill | Feb 17, 2022 |
Mixed feelings here. My attention was mostly fixed, sometimes utterly riveted, but sometimes - - just not and sometimes sort of bothered. This time period, 1967, and this music is what I listened to OBSESSIVELY starting in 1964 at ten when I got my first teeny tiny transistor radio eventually by 1969 graduating to the at the time ultra-cool "portable" KLH and actual albums. Mitchell wasn't even born until 1969 so . . . he listened a lot, read a lot, and probably was able to talk to some people who were there (being a literary celebrity and all). Because yeah, what bothered me were the parties and the conversations with whoever. Meeting John Lennon crawling around under a table, hearing Joni Mitchell working on a tune. Dropping acid with Jerry Garcia (annoying, somehow) BUT in a way irrelevant because everything else: the stories of the four members of the band and their manager; the dialogue; their own discovery of themselves as a band--this indefinable bond, like musical telepathy, that happens between some musicians--the dive into Tibetan Buddhist/magical realism practices and beliefs, all of the rest is wonderful. I just wish some editor/reader had convinced Mitchell dump the schmoozing. I get it that we're supposed to feel the same wonder that our four protagonists did, but it felt snobby and exclusive to me, and well, creepy. This kind of made-up/real fiction is tricky. I hate criticizing Mitchell and really, he's entitled to go out on a limb and try anything he wishes, but this piece didn't ring right with me. (I know the details are punctiliously collected, but even so). So I'll just take off a half point. And yes, yes, I was a dreadful handful as an adolescent, but I loved the music. **** 1/2 ( )
  sibylline | Jan 30, 2022 |
I'm a huge David Mitchell fan, so I was extremely happy to find out that his latest novel focuses on psychedelia and the 1960s, two other things I'm very much into! Utopia Avenue is as well-written and engaging as I was expecting - I really enjoyed getting to know each member of the band, especially Elf and Jasper, and I was particularly delighted to spot a few names from Mitchell's other novels as well as the cameos by real-life musicians.

I think my only issue is that I would have liked much more from Griff's perspective - he's very much relegated to supporting character status apart from a significant event that takes place partway through the story.

If you're about to start reading Utopia Avenue, I would recommend checking out Mitchell's Utopia Avenue playlist on Spotify to give you an aural flavour of the period in which the book is set. ( )
  mooingzelda | Jan 24, 2022 |
A 1960s Musical Fantasy

Like its character guitarist Jasper de Zoet, Utopia Avenue exhibits a strong sense of schizophrenia in that it blends the fantasy/supernatural world of Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks with a somewhat eulogistic recreation of the London music scene of the 1960s.

Utopia Avenue chronicles the formation of a fictitious rock/blues/folk band in 1967 London and its rise to international fame over about two years. The novel not only captures the ups and downs of the band but also the London, and then international rock, music scene during what many would call its most formative years, growing and maturing in the time of political and social turmoil. In addition to developing the four band members, the aforementioned Jasper de Zoet on guitar, Dean Moss on bass guitar, Elf Holloway on keyboard, and Griff Griffin on drums, with Elf performing lead vocals and the others taking parts depending on the songs played. Jasper, Dean, and Elf also write the band’s material. And here too Mitchell does a good job of showing us the creative process that goes into creating their music. He adds even more authenticity by having the bands members meet and intermingle with the rising and established rock gods of the times, among them John Lennon, Janis Joplin, David Bowie, Jerry Garcia, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Jackson Browne, Brian Jones, Keith Moon, and other musicians, artists, and writers well known to fans today. All in all, it’s a satisfying, and often nostalgic, excursion into the past.

Some may consider the following a spoiler, so beware.

The Bone Clocks enters the picture later in the novel when it’s revealed that Jasper’s psychological problems, which appear to be a case of schizophrenia to all mortals, actually is possession by an evil horologist character who dates back to an earlier Michell novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Readers not familiar with The Bone Clocks might find the whole thing a bit jarring, given that the thrust of the novel is the spirited recreation of a real life musical era. Those familiar with The Bone Clocks, however, might think the blending pleasing, as will those who deep down suspect that, yes, it might be possible that a whole other world exits beside our own, and that a great war with consequences has been playing out behind the scenes for generations. After all, many believe in spiritual worlds, or at least derive satisfaction from the speculation. Several literary genres, such as sci-fi and fantasy, thrive on such conjecture and imaginary world building. But maybe this novel isn’t quite the place for horologists.

That said, regardless, Utopia Avenue comes off well and Michell’s colorful and fulsome recreation of the Sixties music scene will have readers vibrating with its pulse, and some old enough reliving the whole experience somewhat wistfully. ( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
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Dean hurries past the Phoenix Theatre, dodges a blind man in dark glasses, steps onto Charing Cross Road to overtake a slow-moving woman and pram, leaps a grimy puddle and swerves into Denmark Street where he skids on a sheet of black ice.
Quotations
Art is a paradox. It is no sense but it is sense. (8%)
True love is the act of trying to love. Effortless love is as dubious as effortless gardening. (20%)
The snag with Paradise is, it's hard to earn a living there." (73%)
Life's precious. We forget it. All the time. We should't wait until a funeral to remember. (75%)
'Songs do not change the worls,' declares Jasper. 'People do. People pass laws, riot, hear God and act accordingly. People invent, kill, make babies, start wars.' Jasper lights a Malboro. 'Which begs a 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 space and time. Who knows where they'll land? Or what they'll bring?" Jasper leans into the mic sings a miscellany of single lines from nine or ten songs.... '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 Carthartic sorrows. 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.' (88%)
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"Soho, London, 1967. Folk-rock-psychedelic quartet Utopia Avenue is formed. Guitarist Jasper de Zoet, a shy, half-Dutch public-school musical prodigy, was hearing voices long before he dropped acid. Keyboardist Elf Holloway must defy the prejudices of her bank manager father, her housewife mother, and her age to forge her own career. Bassist Dean Moss cannot, will not, spend his life on the factory floor like everyone else in Gravesend. Band manager Levon Frankland--gay, Jewish, and Canadian--is not unduly burdened by conscience. The drummer is a drummer. Over two years and two albums, Utopia Avenue navigates the dark end of the Sixties: its parties, drugs and egos, political change and personal tragedy; and the trials of life as a working band in London, the provinces, European capitals and, finally, the promised land of America. What is art? What is fame? What is music? How can the whole be more than the sum of its parts? Can idealism change the world? How does your youth shape your life? This is the story of Utopia Avenue. Not everyone lives to the end"--

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amazon ca :The long-awaited new novel from the bestselling, prize-winning author of Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks.

Utopia Avenue is the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967, and fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, blues bassist Dean Moss and guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet, Utopia Avenue embarked on a meteoric journey from the seedy clubs of Soho, a TV debut on Top of the Pops, the cusp of chart success, glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome, and a fateful American sojourn in the Chelsea Hotel, Laurel Canyon, and San Francisco during the autumn of ’68.

David Mitchell’s kaleidoscopic novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue’s turbulent life and times; of fame’s Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder; of the families we choose and the ones we don’t; of voices in the head, and the truths and lies they whisper; of music, madness, and idealism. Can we really change the world, or does the world change us?
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