Those whose musical tastes end in the early 1970s—and literary tastes are up to the minute—will especially enjoy Mitchell’s...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

UTOPIA AVENUE

Noted novelist Mitchell returns with a gritty, richly detailed fable from rock’s golden age.

There’s no time-hopping, apart from a brief epilogue set in the present, or elegant experiments in genre-busting in Mitchell’s latest novel, his first since Slade House (2015). Oh, there are a couple of winking references to Cloud Atlas (2004), which here takes the form of “overlapping solos for piano, clarinet, cello, flute, oboe and violin,” and ace rock ’n’ roll guitarist Jasper de Zoet is eventually revealed to descend from the eponymous hero of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010). Mostly, though, we’re on realistic ground not seen since Black Swan Green (2006), and Mitchell digs deep in his saga of how two top-of-their-form players—de Zoet and ill-fated bassist Dean Moss—recruit an unlikely keyboardist and singer in the form of an ethereal folkie named Elf Holloway, who goes electric and joins them in a band that Jasper deems “Pavonine….Magpie-minded. Subterranean.” The usual stuff of rock dramas—the ego clashes, the drugs, the hangers-on, and record-company parasites—is all there, but Mitchell, who wasn’t born when Utopia Avenue’s putative first album was released, knows exactly which real-life musicians to seed into the story: There’s Gene Clark of The Byrds, for example, who admires a guitar figure of Jasper’s (“So that’s an F major seventh?…I call it ‘F Demented’ ”). Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Syd Barrett, Jackson Browne, and Jerry Garcia turn up (as does, decades later, the brilliant band Talk Talk, acknowledging a debt to the Utopians). There’s even a highly learned if tossed-aside reference to how the Stones’ album Let It Bleed earned its name. Bone spurs and all, it’s realistic indeed and just the thing for pop music fans of a bygone era that’s still very much with us.

Those whose musical tastes end in the early 1970s—and literary tastes are up to the minute—will especially enjoy Mitchell’s yarn.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9743-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

more