Someone once said writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but disregarding this sage advice, David Mitchell returns with his big music novel, his first major work in six years. Its story follows the rise and fall of an English rock band the Utopia Avenue of the title, from its inception, almost as a result of a musical blind date, in the heyday of psychedelia in the London of 1967 to its inevitable ‘it’s better to burn out than to fade away’ blazing demise a few years later as reality and idealism finally collide, calling in at New York, San Francisco and all points in between on this journey through the summer of love and beyond. There’s more than a hint of Fairport Convention’s story in some aspects of this tale, and indeed Mitchell made extensive use of Rob Young’s history of the British folk scene Electric Eden when researching the book. There are also some subtle references to previous novels for Mitchell aficionados to spot; the name of the Syd Barrett like guitarist will ring a bell with readers of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, while the band’s manager, Levon, was last seen reminiscing about the band in a scene in The Bone Clocks. The storyline itself is actually, and unusually for Mitchell, pretty straightforward, recounting the trials and tribulations of band life, the joyous successes and the grinding failures, the crazy highs and the crushing lows, and featuring numerous fleeting cameo appearances from real musicians, such as Bowie and Bolan, Rod Stewart and Brian Jones. Although it’s rather a change of direction for the author and he has adopted a much more conventional approach to his writing than at times in the past, this kaleidoscopic novel is hugely entertaining, well researched and superbly written. It is also much more accessible than some of his previous work, and will, I think, open up a whole new audience alongside his established readership. A very enjoyable read – highly recommended!
Length of Read:Long
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Obviously Mitchell’s previous novels, but also those with an interest in the late sixties music scene – and anyone who loves great writing!
One thing you’ve learned
A first class read, and actually one of Mitchell’s most straightforward works (and none the worse for that) – indeed in a recent interview he mentioned it was his parents’ favourite of all his novels.