Novelist David Mitchell on his new book Utopia Avenue

From Saturday Morning, 10:05 am on 11 July 2020

The author of Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green and number9dream, David Mitchell, has just released a new novel - his first in five years. 

Utopia Avenue, is a magical, musical story about '...the strangest British band you've never heard of…"

The band is a psychedelic, folk-rock, blues band, which formed just before the Summer of Love in 1967.

David Mitchell

David Mitchell Photo: AFP / FILE

Utopia Avenue is fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, blues bassist Dean Moss and guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet.

The band is successful, then it falls apart after just two albums and is a kind of amalgam of many bands that emerged in the late 1960s.

Mitchell says he benefitted from the late 60s archival material available on YouTube.

“Conveniently for me, video footage was a thing in the 60s and YouTube is a thing now, and I’ve got access to those two portals back to clips on how Syd Barret spoke and Brian Jones spoke. You can actually see them in action and copy their speech patterns, so when I’m trying to reproduce them on the page, with luck, I can get closer than I could if it was set in the 1920s.”

Fans of Mitchell’s work will enjoy various nods to his previous novels, but it can be enjoyed by first-timers, he says.  

“I see it as a standalone self-contained novel. And if you only read this, and never read anything else I’ve done, then it’ll make sense and hopefully you’ll have a good time in it. I also see it, at the same time, as one more chapter in this strange, lifelong, metanovel I’m putting together. It’s both of those things at once.”

Two of Mitchell's previous novels, number9dream (2001) and Cloud Atlas (2004), were shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and he has achieved considerable critical acclaim, but he told Kim Hill he avoids reading his press – good or bad.

“They are all wasps at the picnic of the calm mind, you do just want to write without any interference from future reviewers of the thing you’re writing, looking over your shoulder and saying ‘oh that’s good’ or ‘that’s astoundingly vulgar’. You just don’t want them in the room. And the best way to make sure they are not in the room is to not read your reviews.”

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Photo: Supplied

Mitchell has been busy with various projects over the last few years and has submitted a manuscript to the Future Library project.

Future Library is a public artwork that aims to collect an original work by a popular writer every year from 2014 to 2114. The works will remain unread and unpublished until 2114.

One thousand trees were specially planted for the project in Norway forest at its inception; the 100 manuscripts will be printed in limited-edition anthologies using paper made from the trees.

“For me, it’s a big vote of confidence in the future, that if humanity survives pandemics, it survives the erosion of our political system, it survives ecological collapse, in 100 years there will still be functioning states in Scandinavia, there will still be forests, there’ll still be readers there’ll still be books.”