Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
I've been a fan of David Mitchell since I first read Cloud Atlas in 2009. I know that his structural gimmicks don't work for everyone, but they work entirely for me. I love mosaic books in which shorter works interact with each other; Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe, Jeff Vandermeer's Ambergris books, 2666 by Roberto Bolano, etc. Nearly all of Mitchell's books work that way, and they work with each other. The novels interact in ways that, if they work for you, really enhance the reading experience, and if they don't, smack of fan service. It all really works for me.
The various strands of Utopia Avenue form a more straightforward story than Mitchell usually employs. The book is structured around the discography of the titular band, going through the albums side by side, song by song, with each chapter consisting of the time in which the song was written with the song's writer as the perspective character. The band has three primary songwriters, one woman and two men, keys, bassist, and guitarist respectively, though both the drummer and manager get a writing credit on a song. The weird connections come through references to Mitchell's previous books.
Jasper de Zoet, the guitarist for Utopia Avenue is the descendant of the protagonist of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and he is carrying a traveler around in his head that has tormented him since his youth. This strand is in that genre of horror that doubles as an exploration of mental health issues and carries the novel into territory that overlaps with Thousand Autumns, The Bone Clocks and Slade House.
This might or might not work for someone who hadn't read Mitchell before, but I found it enchanting, and the ending incredibly moving. Mitchell's prose is always excellent. There are several of his books I like more, but this was very good indeed.