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Utopia Avenue: No time for nostalgia as David Mitchell swings into the Sixties

Fiction: Utopia Avenue

David Mitchell

Sceptre, 561 pages, paperback, €16.99; e-book £10.99

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Challenging situations: David Mitchell

Challenging situations: David Mitchell

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

Challenging situations: David Mitchell

David Mitchell is a writer who loves to hop around in time and space. Cloud Atlas, his best-known novel, begins in the 19th century in the Pacific, sweeps through 1930s Bruges, Seventies California, early 21st-century Britain, a future dystopian Korean state, a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, then back again. In later works, he has visited 18th-century Japan, the early Eighties England of his childhood and West Cork - where he now lives - in 2043.

His latest is set in the British music scene in the hippy heyday of 1967 and the comedown of 1968 (although he can't resist a final leap forward to the present day). It tells the story of Utopia Avenue, a psychedelic group that is somehow more than the sum of its unlikely parts: Jasper de Zoet, a faintly aristocratic, socially awkward virtuoso guitarist who suffers from "aural schizophrenia"; Elf Holloway, a "folk-scene doyenne" who now specialises in Hammond organ pyrotechnics; Peter 'Griff' Griffin, a gruff Yorkshireman who used to drum in a jazz band; and Dean Moss, a leering rock bassist from working-class Essex. They are brought together by Levon Frankland, a shrewd, sharp-suited Canadian manager with boundless patience.

Their name is conjured by de Zoet to sum up the band's "paradoxical" nature. "Utopia is unobtainable. Avenues are everywhere," he explains. It also encapsulates the nature of the Sixties as experienced here. On one level, there is the grand dream of peace, love and understanding; on the other, there's the cold reality of life: boring family meals, grotty service stations, sexism, infidelity, estrangement and untimely death. This may be the most mythologised decade of all time, but Mitchell does not look at it through rose-tinted John Lennon specs.