When I think of stories that I love, they tend to be heavy on the action and adventure, with a strong plot and even stronger characters. Stories I usually avoid are those that don’t seem to go anywhere and that mimic reality a bit too much. Novels by David Mitchell, in my mind, usually fall into the former category, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to read his latest novel, Utopia Avenue. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Utopia Avenue is not at all an adventure story but rather more of that latter category that I try to avoid. This time, though, I am so glad I did not avoid it at all.
Utopia Avenue is a phenomenal story of four very different people who come together to form a band in the late 1960s while the world changes around them. As a character-driven novel, Mr. Mitchell takes great care to create characters and develop them to the point where their stories become real in your mind. To enhance that feel of reality, he intersperses interactions between some of the top musicians and celebrities of the time.
Not only are the characters fabulous in their very real issues, which includes everything from mental illness to financial problems to relationship drama, but Mr. Mitchell also finds a way to create their music through words. He provides enough context for most readers to be able to parse together the very exploratory sounds the band creates. For those readers with a broader musical understanding, he makes you wish there were Utopia Avenue albums you could discover for yourself.
Utopia Avenue may not be exciting. There are no car chases, no magical spells, no quests the band must achieve. At its essence, it is a simple story about a group of four people who are as different as could be but come together through their love of music and performing and a need to make a name for themselves. We see their struggles and their successes and watch them grow into a family through all of it. Through Mr. Mitchell’s stellar writing, nothing happens but everything happens. Utopia Avenue may not be the type of story I traditionally enjoy, but it will go on the list as one of my favorite novels of 2020.