I have always liked anyone called David Mitchell, whether they are a popular TV comedian or an award winning author.
Today I’m talking about the latter, whose eighth novel tells the story of the fictional 1960s British rock band Utopia Avenue.
Unlike many of his readers, it wasn’t Cloud Atlas that first attracted me to David Mitchell. I started with his first novel, Ghostwritten which set the scene for the books which were to follow which all have a similar theme of intersecting lives. Another influential aspect of Ghostwritten for me was the plethora of references to good music, especially the Jazz and it inspired me to include plenty of musical references in my own books and one day I hope to set up a Spotify playlist for each one, as soon as I get round to it.
His work has inspired me to make connections between my own novels even if my connections might be a bit more conventional than his. In Utopia Avenue, The band’s first single “Darkroom” is played on the radio by Bat Segundo, a DJ who appears in Ghostwritten. Jasper mentions a disembodied entity called ‘the Mongolian’ in his list of people he’s met who understand and accept him, presumably the spirit from the Mongolia section of Ghostwritten. Jasper’s friend from school, Heinz Formaggio, goes on to become the physicist mentioned in Ghostwritten
His second novel, Number9dream, has a similar feel and was shortlisted for a Booker. It still has music running through its core and is even named after a sing by John Lennon. One thing I didn’t realise was that a section of the book was adapted into an Oscar nominated short film called The Voorman Problem starring Martin Freeman
Next came Cloud Atlas which was also short listed for a Booker and was, of course, made into a feature film starring Tom Hanks. In a way, I think the book was less confusing than the film because of the way it was structured. In Utopia Avenue, one of the main characters, Jasper de Zoet, listens to a recording of The Cloud Atlas Sextet composed by Robert Frobisher, a character and work described in Cloud Atlas. Also another band member, Elf Holloway, has a relationship with Luisa Rey, who appears in Cloud Atlas.
His next novel, Black Swan Green was semi-autobiographical, I guess in a similar way to my own The Astonishing Anniversaries of James and David: Part One which has many events inspired by my own experiences. It was longlisted for the Booker and, perhaps more importantly, it was nominated for a bad sex award, an accolade the I myself am striving for with Living with Saci and Living with the Headless Mule.
Next came The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which has close links to Utopia Avenue in that Jasper is a descendent of Jacob. It is a historical novel set during the Dutch trading concession with Japan in the late 18th century, during the period of Japanese history known as Sakoku. The Japanese theme which runs through many of Mitchell’s novels is not surprising given that he lived in Hiroshima for eight years teaching English to technical students.
The Bone Clocks was also longlisted for a Booker and was described as one of the year’s best novels by Stephen King. In Utopia Avenue, the band play at the pub in Gravesend owned by the Sykes family who appear in The Bone Clocks, Levon Frankland, the band’s manager, appears in The Bone Clocks at a literary event in the year 2015, at a party in London the band meet Crispin Hershey, the author from The Bone Clocks, as a child and Horologist Esther Little also appears in both novels.
The character of Marinus and the group known as Horologists are present in Utopia Avenue and in several of Mitchell’s novels.
He has also written From Me Flows What You Call Time is a 90-page novella completed in 2016 which will not be published until 2114. It is part of a series by artist Katie Paterson called Future Library project calling for contributions from popular writers for novels to be published in 2114.
Other writing projects of his have included screenwriting for Sense8 and Matrix 4.
One of my favourite parts of Utopia Avenue for me is that the drummer, Peter ‘Griff’ Griffin, is, like me, from Hull in East Yorkshire. Apart from that, I liked his description of a world which surrounded Denmark Street, a part of London that has changed dramatically and irrevocably.
If you like music of the late sixties then I would highly recommend the book which name drops all the famous artists and personalities of the time and if you are like me, someone who reads every novel Mitchell publishes, then you won’t be disappointed.