Author Topic: David Mitchell (the novelist not the panel show/Guardian/comedy man) new book  (Read 1878 times)

Inspector Norse

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Hello!

David Mitchell has got a new book out and it has got good reviews again. Seems to be of a piece with the rest of his work stylistically, a multipart novel following the members of a band swinging round the psych and folk scenes in the late '60s.

What do you think of David Mitchell and the rest of his work?

He's one of my favourite British writers of the current generation: I think he's a wonderful writer and storyteller, a creator of great and memorable characters and worlds, and I find the interbook universe he's created fascinating, even if it does mean he sometimes comes across as too flighty, too fanciful to be seriously moving or insightful. For pure enjoyment, though, he is hard to beat; I've liked all of his books a lot, apart from his debut Ghostwritten.

That said, I am always a little wary of novels about rock music or the like. I am always expecting the author to display their bad taste[1], come up short when trying to show off the depth of their knowledge[2], or simply not "get it". But this gives me something to look forward to after the summer holidays.
 1. giving undue importance to stuff I don't like
 2. they don't reference all the rubbish post-punk outfits I want them to

I know exactly what you mean about books referencing bands. It's nearly always fucking rubbish. That's really put me off his latest, also it's so long since I read anything by him that I'll have forgotten most of the in-universe characters (apart from the guy in the Wolves tracksuit) and that would irk me.

Small Man Big Horse

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Hello!

David Mitchell has got a new book out and it has got good reviews again. Seems to be of a piece with the rest of his work stylistically, a multipart novel following the members of a band swinging round the psych and folk scenes in the late '60s.

What do you think of David Mitchell and the rest of his work?

He's one of my favourite British writers of the current generation: I think he's a wonderful writer and storyteller, a creator of great and memorable characters and worlds, and I find the interbook universe he's created fascinating, even if it does mean he sometimes comes across as too flighty, too fanciful to be seriously moving or insightful. For pure enjoyment, though, he is hard to beat; I've liked all of his books a lot, apart from his debut Ghostwritten.

That said, I am always a little wary of novels about rock music or the like. I am always expecting the author to display their bad taste[1], come up short when trying to show off the depth of their knowledge[2], or simply not "get it". But this gives me something to look forward to after the summer holidays.
 1. giving undue importance to stuff I don't like
 2. they don't reference all the rubbish post-punk outfits I want them to

I'm a huge fan of his and am really looking forward to the new novel, the only one I didn't previously click with was Jacob De Zoet, but everyone I know who read it loved it so that might be me being a bit thick. Oh, and Slade Alley was a little simplistic I guess, but still a fun ride. Otherwise I've lapped up his work, and have no criticisms at all and will definitely be picking up the new one very soon.

I’ve started reading it and the real life music references are indeed a little cringey.

neveragain

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I'm three chapters - or sections, really - in and, as much as I love Mitchell's writing I am getting impatient to see how many styles or genres he'll cycle through before the end, or if it'll stick to largely one register (as with Black Swan Green or the de Zoet novel).

Small Man Big Horse

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I’ve started reading it and the real life music references are indeed a little cringey.

I'm about 100 pages in and really struggling on that front. Mitchell is one of my favourite writers but it's so clunkily done I find myself wincing a lot, the bit with David Bowie was especially painful, though the appearances from Syd Barrett and Allen Ginsberg almost matched it, and I really wish he'd left them out.

I'm three chapters - or sections, really - in and, as much as I love Mitchell's writing I am getting impatient to see how many styles or genres he'll cycle through before the end, or if it'll stick to largely one register (as with Black Swan Green or the de Zoet novel).

As far as I can see it's cycling throughout, which is a bit of an issue as though I really like Elf's sections, and find Jasper's interesting, I'm finding Dean's a bit bland and sometimes even slightly annoying.

I'm still early in this but I feel his writing has become worse in recent books. He used to be dizzyingly ambitious but these days he feels a bit YA and plummy.

"He also," popcorn scratches his beard, "writes dialogue using this sort of structure a lot."

Does it get a bit tiring?

On the roof outside a seagull laughs.

Inspector Norse

  • I bash the Bishop well.
I'm about 100 pages in and really struggling on that front. Mitchell is one of my favourite writers but it's so clunkily done I find myself wincing a lot, the bit with David Bowie was especially painful, though the appearances from Syd Barrett and Allen Ginsberg almost matched it, and I really wish he'd left them out.

Yeah, about the same way in here now and I feel the same way. I can understand that setting a book in that world and scene you will need a few real-world characters for detail and feel, but they're everywhere and it's unnecessary and obtrusive.
It would have been perfectly fine to swap some of them out for invented characters: do we really need a list of all the real-life folk legends attending a fictional character's gig? Likewise, many of the bits are overdone: we don't need the thudding revelation of Bowie's name and a meaningless talk with him, we could just have an in-passing description so some of us could "get" it.
It's a shame because I'm enjoying the book in parts - there is still some fine writing in there, it's a very vivid world and the main characters appeal while the minor characters are Mitchell's usual mix of smart observation and fun caricatures - but these interludes are increasingly frustrating and break the flow too much. I think that the sections about Jasper are most promising so far, he seems the most connected to Mitchell's other writing (his listening to the Cloud Atlas sextet was an example of Mitchell mixing in references to his other work without being too obvious and clever), they seem the most complex and psychologically rich, and offer the most potential for the playfulness the author is known for.

I'm still early in this but I feel his writing has become worse in recent books. He used to be dizzyingly ambitious but these days he feels a bit YA and plummy.

"He also," popcorn scratches his beard, "writes dialogue using this sort of structure a lot."

Does it get a bit tiring?

On the roof outside a seagull laughs.

I have finished this book and I’d agree with this. I was a huge fan of DM previously but either I have moved on (unlikely given how little I read nowadays!) or his writing has changed for the worse. Definitely quite YA and I find the stuff ‘hinting‘ about Jasper’s being on the autistic spectrum and Elf’s sexuality really unsubtle and cringey.

The only bits I really liked you all may not have got to yet so I’ll keep quiet for now.

Small Man Big Horse

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I'm about half way through now and really struggling, Dean is a tedious cunt with a chip on his shoulder so large it could feed thousands, I'm actively dreading his sections now, especially as the way he speaks is like a caricature of a working class person from a piss poor sixties set sitcom and it's incredibly painful to read. If it wasn't Mitchell I'd be quitting it, but I'll stick through with it until the end, and then will probably throw it on a bonfire so no one else has to suffer.

Inspector Norse

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Yeah, also at the halfway point and manfully struggling through. I like Jasper as a character, the rest are a drag. The namedropping has eased off to the point at which the odd real-life encounter does feel genuinely significant, but the problem the book now has is that there’s not really a lot of plot or point.

I'm still only 20% into this. Finding it really boring and naff.

Small Man Big Horse

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Yeah, also at the halfway point and manfully struggling through. I like Jasper as a character, the rest are a drag. The namedropping has eased off to the point at which the odd real-life encounter does feel genuinely significant, but the problem the book now has is that there’s not really a lot of plot or point.

Yeah, and the back of the book pretty much gives everything away too, the only part it doesn't reveal is why the band splits up, but I'm guessing it'll be either Jasper going crazy or Dean being such a cunt they all help murder him.

Small Man Big Horse

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Fuck me, I didn't know how good I had it before. But I've just read the chapter where Dean's in jail and thought I'd go mad with the tedium of it all, and straight after that is the chapter on Elf's sister's dead baby and I truly don't give a fuck, why Mitchell thought anyone would care in the slightest is beyond me.

I'm going to throw a party when I've finished this, if I finish it that is, I'm almost 350 pages in and have never given up a book at that point, but I'm starting to hate Mitchell so much I worry about what I might do if it somehow gets worse.

Inspector Norse

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Think we're progressing at the same rate, I gave a "just 200 pages to go, thank God" sigh last night but at the rate I'm going it'll take me another fortnight.

I do like Jasper's sections and expect that's where things will tie in to Mitchell's other books (Marinus was mentioned at some point) so I'm half tempted just to skip to those passages.

Small Man Big Horse

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I've finished it now, and thank fuck for that. It was a giant turd of a book, managing to become worse as it went on, and the only bit I enjoyed was *MAJOR SPOILER REGARDING THE VERY ENDING* when Dean died at the end, that had me grinning an enormous amount, though of course we were meant to feel the opposite. Off to bed now but will no doubt ramble more about it tomorrow, as fuck me I'm genuinely astonished as to how bad it is, and Mitchell has gone from being one of my favourite authors to someone I will never read again, not unless he issues an apology for the book at least and gives me my fucking money back.

While my negative feelings about the book pale in significance to yours, I’m most of the way through re-Reading Cloud Atlas as a palate cleanser.

While my negative feelings about the book pale in significance to yours, I’m most of the way through re-Reading Cloud Atlas as a palate cleanser.

That's definitely still good right? I didn't dream that

Small Man Big Horse

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While my negative feelings about the book pale in significance to yours, I’m most of the way through re-Reading Cloud Atlas as a palate cleanser.

I hope one day to be able to read his previous work again and enjoy it, but definitely need a long break.

Okay, random thoughts time (and anything in spoiler tags will be pretty major:

The celebrity cameos - Just became more and more painful as they went on. The way they were introduced was awful too, along the lines of "Wearing a black hat and a wry smile he said hello to the Utopians. "Chuffin' heck, it's bleedin' Johnny Cash!" said Griff", I have never winced so much while reading a book, and all of the famous types felt like horrible caricatures rather than anything close to real people.

Dean - I'm not convinced that Mitchell has ever met anyone who's working class in his life now, and just based him on bad sitcoms. The way the final three chapters are from his perspective made the end of the book a truly turgid read, and fucking hell, what tedious shite it was too, the acid trip being particularly pointless. As I mentioned above, I've never been so happy for a fictional character to die, and it was the only part of the ending that I really liked.

Jasper - What could have been an interesting and thoughtful insight in to mental illness...Took on a bizarre fantastical bent? As rather than being schizophrenic he was actually possessed by a character from one of Mitchell's other books? This might have been an okay idea in something else, but in a book which is otherwise so reality based it just felt bizarre, and annoyed me no end. It's a real shame too as I liked some of Jasper's chapters, but for his story to end in such a strange manner was cheap and unsatisfying in the extreme.

Elf - Someone I liked, but I really didn't need the dead baby shite, and her realisation that she was gay was handled in an embarrassingly patronising manner. Still, at least some of the time her chapters were enjoyable which is something at least.

The Drummer bloke - Poor sod only got the one chapter. Probably for the best though.

As a whole the narrative really didn't go anywhere, it was just the slow, gradual success of a band, occasionally they'd have a personal revelation but it was never that interesting, and then it ended, making me wonder what the point of it all was. All of which might have been forgivable if the prose was better, and if all the character's had been well written, but it wasn't to be. Also as I said in a previous post, if it wasn't by Mitchell I'd have ditched it after a hundred pages, and I'd be amazed if I read anything he produces after this now, the reviews will have to be absolutely stunning.

Spoon of Ploff

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I bailed on Mitchell after The Bone Clocks and was wondering if I should give him another go.. so thanks for saving me from making what would have been a terrible mistake.

Chat between Mitchell and the musician Sam Amidon, as part of Edinburgh International Book Festival: https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/david-mitchell-with-sam-amidon-the-music-of-utopia-avenue/player

I haven't read the book yet (this thread isn't filling me with confidence) but I found this a pretty interesting conversation anyway.

Inspector Norse

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Re: David Mitchell (the novelist not the panel show/Guardian/comedy man) new book
« Reply #21 on: September 02, 2020, 09:38:12 PM »
Okay, random thoughts time (and anything in spoiler tags will be pretty major:

I think I liked it more - or disliked it less, perhaps - than you, but it was certainly Mitchell's weakest yet.

Had it been half the length it could have worked: the characters were all more or less likable but suffered from not having any real development, apart from Jasper, who just got an anticlimactic ending and a potentially interesting storyline that ended up being an unnecessary callback to one of Mitchell's better works.

The style was certainly a step towards chummy YA froth, but there were occasionally inspired passages or descriptions; the celeb cameos, though, never really worked and I think it would have been better to populate the book with more fictional characters and just throw in the odd veiled reference to real-life figures.

It seemed like a lot happened and yet none of it really mattered: major life events were swiftly forgotten while the overall story of the band was pretty dull - they got signed, released a couple of records, met some celebrities, that's it.

I really liked everything from Cloud Atlas through Bone Clocks, and he's talked about writing an "operatic" epic tying together his bookworld but this felt like a nerdy distraction that he took too far and, having got into it, couldn't bring himself to abandon, instead throwing in some random bits to connect it too his other work.

Whug Baspin

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Re: David Mitchell (the novelist not the panel show/Guardian/comedy man) new book
« Reply #22 on: September 22, 2020, 02:51:29 PM »
I just finished this. I think the Woody Allen analogy about Pizza and Sex is true of Mitchell. 'When David Mitchell is good he's really really good, when he's bad, he's still pretty good.'

I also agree with the celebrity cameos being slightly distracting, I think the one I enjoyed the most was Levons night out.

I DM is best when he's in in full flight, I'm thinking particularly of the passages with movement or momentum to them, Elf walking through Soho, and the prose just flies. brush strokes of words creating the surroundings with a clear dramatic path. I'm also think he last hit those strides with the Ed Burbeck sections of Bone Clocks.

I tend to find the more reflective philosophical sections less engaging or at least exhilarating.

Tonally, what grated for me was the drug use, spliffs (fine, man), cocaine (silly idea), LSD (once in a while, but don't leave the windows in your head open, or you'll catch a cold). Perhaps David wasn't interested enough in that aspect to make it more believable, but much like the drugs themselves perhaps they were just a prop and anchor for plot points to hang around.

neveragain

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This probably won't help change anyone's mind about the cringey celeb cameos but I thought it was a good tie in to the end that (big spoiler again) they were all deceased (and even when with bandmates who were still alive, only the dead-now singers spoke.)

Agree with most of the criticism here, I found Mitchell's working class speak extraordinarily misjudged but enjoyed some of the chapters which SMBH really didn't. They reminded me of his classic genre-hopping tangents of old. It makes me worry that Mitchell is settling into that YAish style but Bone Clocks and Slade House had enough variety (as well as being miles better than Utopia Avenue regrettably).

I liked Elf's ending, she was a sweet character although I preferred to imagine her as brunette rather than blonde. Jasper carried on past the point which would have been a fine conclusion for his character and, as has been said, why couldn't he just be schizophrenic? Feels churlish of me to say but not everything has to be part of the Multiverse. Saying that, Knock Knock did have some effective moments.

Overall I still enjoyed his prose (as did Stephen King funnily enough) but it didn't come together.

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