Booklist Reviews 2020 June #1
*Starred Review* Metafiction master Mitchell's readers can be excused if they greet a new novel by this unalloyed genius with both goose-pimply anticipation and trepidation over meeting the challenge. Not to worry. Utopia Avenue, while leaving behind neither the complexity nor the genre-bending pyrotechnics of The Bone Clocks (2014), is by far the most accessible of Mitchell's broad-canvas novels. This addictive Big Gulp of a narrative not only delivers a compelling and multitextured look at the 1960s, but it also could be the best novel about a rock band since Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010). Mitchell evokes the psychedelic age with a bravura mix of telling details and richly composed portraits of iconic figures (Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and more). At the heart of the story, though, is the British band itself, Utopia Avenue: singer and guitarist Elf Holloway, guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet (descended from the titular character in Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010), bassist Dean Moss, and drummer Griff Griffin. Mitchell masterfully builds each of the four into top-of-the-marquee characters, subtly mixing coming-of-age portraits (including one particularly moving long walk out of the closet) with revealing glimpses of inner lives—notably the demons inside Jasper's head, which must be exorcised by Marinus from The Bone Clocks. Reality, Mitchell reminds us, is a nuanced, paradoxical, shifting. So, too, is Utopia Avenue. It's a foot-tapping ode to rock music, but, like the band in full cry—smashing the end of a song into drummed, pounded, twanged molecules—Mitchell continues to use the rhythms of surface reality to dig much deeper, but without ever losing the beat. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2020 July
Mitchell (The Bone Clocks) spins readers through the Swingin' Sixties, charting the progress of British folk rock band Utopia Avenue. Thrown together by enterprising agent Levon Frankland, the band is comprised of jazz drummer Griff and tortured guitar genius Jasper, who were playing with a washed-up act; scrappy bassist Dean, who met Levon the day he was evicted and fired; and "girl singer"/keyboard player Elf, part of a duo until her boyfriend decamped to Paris. The band begin to see success but not without obstacles. They party with rock stars in London, tour the backwater pubs and clubs of Britain in a rickety van, appear on Top of the Pops, get betrayed and busted in Rome, then book a U.S. tour that changes everything. Together and apart, the band weathers family crises, mental illness, sexual awakenings, death and loss, groupies, detractors, and the Sixties' dark side. VERDICT Mitchell's sprawling, engrossing look at the psychedelic era is lovingly rendered, though some of the characters' tolerant attitudes toward homosexuality seem anachronistic. His fans will appreciate the Easter eggs and a metaphysical interlude; those who enjoy revisiting the 1960s will groove on the cameos from many celebrities of the time.—Liz French, Library Journal
Copyright 2020 Library Journal.
PW Reviews 2020 April #4
Mitchell's magical, much anticipated latest (after Slade House) is a rollicking, rapturous tale of 1960s rock 'n' roll. Utopia Avenue emerges from the London music scene as a ragtag band of four unforgettable characters, assembled by manager Levon Frankland as a "psychedelic-folk-rock" supergroup. There's Jasper de Zoet, the dark and enigmatic lead guitarist; Elf Holloway, the ethereal songstress on keyboards; Griff Griffin, the gruff but lovable drummer; and Dean Moss, heartthrob bassist and lead singer. Dean, who escaped poverty and his abusive father, turns to music as his outlet of expression. De Zoet seeks a dangerous escape from his schizophrenia in a mystical "psychosurgery" treatment. Meanwhile, Griff, a "drummer-of-many-parts" according to the Village Voice ("Sounds as if my arms and legs unscrew," Griff says), is the glue that keeps them together, and Elf circuitously navigates her sexuality and eventually finds a surprising new love. From dingy nightclubs to the Chelsea Hotel and room service in California, and cameos from Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and members of the Rolling Stones, Mitchell follows the band's sex- and drug-fueled rise to fame in 1968 and the group's abrupt, heartbreaking end. Each chapter name is the title of a song and focuses on one of the main characters in the band, and Mitchell unspools at least a dozen original song lyrics and descriptions of performances that are just as fiery and infectious as his narratives. Mitchell makes the best use of his familiar elements, from recurring characters to an innovative narrative structure, delivering more fun, more mischief, and more heart than ever before. This is Mitchell at his best. (June)
Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.