David Mitchell is the award-winning, best-selling author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, Ghostwritten, and The Bone Clocks. His new book, Utopia Avenue, is a story of a British band that emerged from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967.
David Mitchell will be in conversation with Hari Kunzru, the author of White Tears. All tickets include a copy of Mitchell’s latest book, Utopia Avenue.
Mitchell is an English author whose novels are known for their lyrical prose style and complex structure. His first book, Ghostwritten (1999), is a collection of interconnected narratives that take place in a variety of locations throughout the world.
Mitchell’s next two books, Number9dream (2001) and Cloud Atlas (2004; film 2012) were both finalists for the Man Booker Prize. In Number9dream, a Japanese man searches for his missing father but the story is told in a manner that makes it unclear if the action takes place in reality or in the narrator’s mind.
In Cloud Atlas (2004; film 2012), Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian love of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending, philosophical, and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick. The story consists of a series of six interlinked stories—written in differing styles, and it explores fundamental questions of reality and identity. Michael Chabon describes the book, “as series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes, a puzzle-book, and yet—not just dazzling, amusing, or clever but heartbreaking and passionate, too. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I’m grateful to have lived, for a while, in all its many worlds.”
Mitchell’s fourth novel, Black Swan Green (2006), tracks a single year in what is, for thirteen-year-old boy, the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire in a dying Cold War England, 1982. But the thirteen chapters, each a short story in its own right, create an exquisitely observed world that is anything but sleepy.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010), Mitchell’s fifth novel, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. This historical novel focuses on the former Japanese trading island of Dejima at the turn of the 18th century—”A beautiful novel, full of life and authenticity, atmosphere and characters that breathe” (NPR).
Mitchell’s sixth novel—also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize—The Bone Clocks (2014), is described by Washington Post as, “Intensely compelling… fantastically witty… [and it] offers up a rich selection of domestic realism, gothic fantasy and apocalyptic speculation.” Mitchell’s next novel, Slade House (2015), which originated on Twitter, tells the story of a haunted house occupied by a pair of vampiric siblings.
With KA Yoshida, Mitchell co-translated from the Japanese the international bestselling memoir, The Reason I Jump, the memoir from Naoki Higashida, who was only thirteen when he wrote The Reason I Jump, a revelatory account of autism from the inside by a nonverbal child.
The long-awaited new novel from Mitchell, Utopia Avenue, is about a band with the same name and is the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967, and fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, blues bassist Dean Moss, and guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet, Utopia Avenue embarked on a meteoric journey from the seedy clubs of Soho, a TV debut on Top of the Pops, the cusp of chart success, glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome, and a fateful American sojourn in the Chelsea Hotel, Laurel Canyon, and San Francisco during the autumn of 1968. The novel explores the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue’s turbulent life and times; of fame’s Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder; of the families we choose and the ones we don’t; of voices in the head, and the truths and lies they whisper; of music, madness, and idealism. Can we really change the world, or does the world change us?
Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2007.
He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.
Hari Kunzru, our moderator for the evening, is the author of six novels: White Tears, The Impressionist, Transmission, My Revolutions, Gods Without Men, and Red Pill, which Knopf will publish in September of 2020. His work has been translated into twenty-one languages, and his short stories and journalism have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, the Guardian, and The New Yorker. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Public Library, and the American Academy in Berlin. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.