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Book Review: Utopia Avenue (Part 1)

This is a book review with a  difference – a statement I should not be permitted to make here without supplying some sort of justification and I begin by seeking to supply a two-pronged one.

Firstly, it arises as a result of one of the ‘signs of our times’ – an online Zoom one-to-one meeting with our esteemed editor.

In this he name-checked highly-regarded author David Mitchell [of whom, incidentally, I had never heard, still less read a word], mentioned that Mitchell had a new novel called Utopia Avenue out, set in England during the 1960s about a progressive rock band of that name that makes it big, and suggested – as it might be an era/subject of special interest/knowledge – that I might purchase a copy and enjoy (and even perhaps review) it.

Secondly, perhaps in keeping with the purist spirit of rock & roll rebellion, my post today effectively amounts to one or more of the following: a part-review, a non-review  … or even an anti-review … and I am undecided as to which.

Let me expand.

At least fifty years ago I came to realise, via a combination of personal instinct and rational self-study, that when it came to books I infinitely preferred  fact to fiction.

I have to confess that the benefits and joys of ‘the reading experience’ have always largely passed me by. I have only read mainly to learn about things, e.g. incidents or people from history.

In this context – inevitably – most of the novels that I’ve ever completed have been ‘set books’ for exams – (in other words) those I read, dissected, analysed and discussed/reviewed because they had to be.

As it happens, quite by chance yesterday – just beyond 350 pages into my 561-page hardback copy of Utopia Avenue purchased on Amazon a couple of weeks ago – I was listening to the Nihal Arthanayake Show (1300 to 1600 hours) on Radio Five Live when he announced that for 45 minutes from 2.00pm he would be interviewing the author David Mitchell about both his new novel and his current work on the script for a new – fourth — movie in the Matrix series.

Being otherwise occupied at the time, I later visited the BBC Sounds website and listened to the interview (each Radio Five Live show is available for 30 days) at my leisure from about 4.15pm.

I can report that David Mitchell, now 51, was born in Lancashire.

After university he earned a living as a teacher of English – at one stage to technical students in Japan – before returning to the UK to try and earn a living as a writer.

His first novel Ghostwritten was published in 1999.

Utopia Avenue, published in the UK on 14th July, is his ninth.

Earlier outings were regularly either nominated for – or won – book prizes. I note (on Wikipedia) that in 2007 Mitchell was listed in Time magazine’s 100 Most Important People In The World.

His third novel Cloud Atlas (2004) was turned into a feature film in 2012.

In more recent times he has been involved in opera (writing librettos), screenwriting on Neflix drama series and now (as already mentioned) the next Matrix movie, due either next year or 2022.

On the evidence of yesterday’s interview with Nihal Arthanayake, Mitchell is a highly-articulate, humble and easy-going gentleman. He listened carefully to everything put to him and responded with candour to questions both banal and profound.

He’s suffered from a stammer all his life and explained the little ‘hacks’ and tricks that all sufferers use to ‘get around’ their issues.

Having been prompted, he told of his lack of self-esteem upon entering the world of scriptwriting, even referencing his fear that one day he’d get the equivalent of a tap on the shoulder and a quiet word in his ear “You’ve been rumbled, mate – it’s over …”

When Arthanayake put it to him that over time he must have learned to combat and overcome that initial sense of inadequacy (“Because that’s what we all do, we have to …”), Mitchell responded “Not really” and went on to add that he’d be reluctant to do so: he felt the accompaniment of an ever-present need to justify one’s talent was a great motivation tool.

All in all, it was a fascinating and rewarding 50 minutes’ worth of radio airtime that gave me a helpful insight or two into the author as a person and a writer.

The second part of my review of Utopia Avenue will follow shortly.




About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts