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Utopian Man

3.58  ·  Rating Details  ·  112 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
An exquisite historical novel about a remarkable man who chose his own path, charming and scandalising others in equal measure. Co-winner of the 2009 Australian/Vogel Literary Award.

It's the 1880s and Marvellous Melbourne is a lavish and raucous city where anything could happen. Eccentric entrepreneur Edward William Cole is building the sprawling Cole's Book Arcade and fil
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Paperback, 248 pages
Published 2010 by Allen & Unwin
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 269)
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Lisa
Oct 09, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it
I romped through this book in a just a few hours and as a work of light fiction I enjoyed it. Utopian Man weaves its way into the mind as if the ideas within were memory rather than the author’s cunning invention. It fills the reader with nostalgia for a time too long ago for any of us to remember – and yet it seems impossibly familiar because the images are so vivid and clear…

Lisa Lang’s debut novel was co-winner of the Vogel Literary Award in 2009 (with Night Street by Kristel Thornell, see my
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Cheryl A
Years ago, I read a number of historical fiction set in Australia and really enjoyed them. Then, I started working in a library and my time was spent reading the newest "hot" titles and for a time I strayed from the more obscure titles in the American market. I just discovered this title, winner of numerous Australian awards and now owe myself a head slap.

Utopian Man is the story of E W Cole, the owner of Cole's Book Arcade, a destination in the late 1800's Melbourne. Simply, but beautifully wri
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Heather
Oct 19, 2015 Heather rated it liked it
I wanted to love this book, I really did. It had all the makings of a great novel- an interesting setting, a quirky protagonist, a beautiful dream, and many substantial hurdles, but it didn't at all deliver on its promise. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't AWFUL, but nothing infuriates me more than books which seem to be leading in particular directions but never quite get there, and this book does it like none other I've ever read. Without fail, EVERY SINGLE story arc that is introduced falls flat- ...more
Steve lovell
Nov 07, 2011 Steve lovell rated it really liked it
Ms Lang shared the 2009 Vogel Award for this novel with Kristel Thornell’s compelling ‘Night Street’. Both efforts featured famous Melburnians – the former with EW Cole, famous in his own time – the latter Clarice Beckett – famous belatedly in ours. Now, having read both, I can see the problem the judges had for both are very fine. Perhaps Thornell just pips Lang and possibly only because Beckett is one of my favourite artists.
Cole, noted for his arcade and funny picture books, intrigued Melbour
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Petris Schrodelis
Mar 20, 2011 Petris Schrodelis rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful and well measured book, which handles some difficult themes very well. The author does an excellent job of showing the flaws in the protagonist's optimistic world view without making the reader feel like he is a fool. There are scenes and elements in the book that could very easily have tipped over into sentimentality and maukishness (the sickness of a beloved infant, scenes of family happiness and the goodness of certain characters), or into melodrama (drug addiction, the sp ...more
Kirsten
Jun 16, 2011 Kirsten rated it liked it
I saw the author at the Sydney Writers Festival, she was part of a panel of three being recognized by the SMH as best young writers under 35. Decided to give her book a go as she sounded so bright, articulate, and optimistic. She took a true Aussie tale as a base, the creator of Melbourne's Coles Book Arcade, which really does sound like a magical place from the 1890s; and then weaves here story around lots of interesting tidbits from his life.

It was a sweet read, and I'm glad I know this littl
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Megan
Aug 14, 2012 Megan rated it it was amazing
Maybe it's because my maiden name is Cole - and Melbourne is my town...yes, biased...but...this book made me cry and the next day I still had trouble talking about it. Lisa's EW Cole 'voice' is wonderfully real. Elegant writing, with a gentle touch. A tale of a grand soul. Let's hope there are more EW Cole's in the world.
Calzean
Oct 02, 2014 Calzean rated it really liked it
Lisa Lang has great empathy and admiration for E.W. Cole. A man who found his wife by placing an advertisement in a paper, who opened up an arcade where the rich and poor were treated equally, was a supporter of racial equality, and a friend to monkeys. A salesman and entrepreneur who treated his employees and customers with respect and fairness. He supported his children in whatever path they chose.

The book, although a fictional account, has a good pace and gives a number of snap shots into the
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Mike
Jan 05, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it
A lovely historical novel about Edward Cole, a self-made bookseller at the end of the 19th century in Melbourne, Australia. I don't know how much of the history is accurate; Lang has also written a scholarly biography of Cole (E.W. Cole - Chasing the Rainbow), so I assume she knows her facts. The fictional Cole is a character I would have loved to meet: he does what he loves, and loves what he does, in total disregard for business sense. When the Australian economy collapses, he expands his book ...more
Jane (yesmissjane)
Cole's Book Arcade was a massive three-storey bookstore in the heart of Melbourne that opened on Cup day in 1883. But this was a bookshop with a difference. It had a fernery, a wonderland with funny mirrors, a music department, a band which played every afternoon, it's own printing press, a lending library, secondhand books for sale, a Chinese tea salon, even a live monkey display! The arcade was the embodiment of one man's vision and humanitarian ideals: Edward William Cole. While the arcade st ...more
Maha Abed
Jun 29, 2013 Maha Abed rated it liked it
I prefer reading non-fiction. If I read fiction, something about it has to attract me and make me want to read more. I usually test a fiction book by scanning through the first few pages, and if it doesn't pique my interest, it is discarded and I move on to something else.

The first two things that made me borrow this book from another campus was the title. Then, I saw commentary and a recommendation from another author, Cate Kennedy, whose works I've always enjoyed reading. I scan through the fi
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Clio
Apr 29, 2013 Clio rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
A balanced work of fictionalised history. E.W. Cole books used to be everywhere in my family, and I thought it was an international thing. Turns out, it was a Melbourne thing. I had NO idea. This book takes the history of Cole and turns it into a narrative. It's fairly compelling in places, especially when we start to to Australia growing as a nation, with the introduction of the white Australia policy and Coles reaction to others' racism. I feel a lot of respect for Cole, although he is portray ...more
Tuck
neat historical novel set in melbourne pre-1900's to a bit after. the entrepreneur starts his own bookstore slash 5 and 10, and makes quite a go of it, despite his goldfields shady past, he and his big family are cornerstones of the community, until...... financial economic collapse, death of child from epidemic, loss of love for his wife, then chasing the dragon, so what starts out as almost a disney-version-sound-of-music vibe (or man-from-snowy-river? hah) turns into a realistic, gritty and c ...more
Jenny
Feb 13, 2015 Jenny rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this. I like Melbourne and I remember the 'Coles Funny Picture Books' from my childhood, so it was very interesting.
Vanessa
Aug 11, 2015 Vanessa rated it liked it
Lang's subject has the potential to be fascinating, but it just never quite gets there.
Jess Hadlow
Jan 20, 2015 Jess Hadlow rated it really liked it
The ending has me a little out-of-sorts, but I loved this book!
Marvin
Jul 21, 2014 Marvin rated it it was ok
Interesting, but too maudlin.
Sharon
Feb 04, 2015 Sharon rated it liked it
Quite a good read but disjointed.
Kimbofo
Dec 07, 2014 Kimbofo rated it really liked it
What a lovely surprise this book turned out to be!

Lisa Lang's debut novel, Utopian Man, was joint winner of the 2009 Australian/Vogel Literary Award. It is based on the life of Edward William (E.W.) Cole, a legendary eccentric who built an amazing retail emporium in Melbourne during the 1880s.

To read the rest of my review, please visit my blog.
Heather
Nov 24, 2015 Heather rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this historical novel about real-life book impresario Edward Cole, who in the late 1800s went from rags to riches in Melbourne, Australia, and opened an incredibly imaginative arcade that included a bookstore, lending library, musical instrument shop, Chinese tea room, and more. A great read for anyone who has spent time browsing photographs of amazing libraries on Pinterest.
Megalion
Jan 30, 2016 Megalion rated it really liked it
Very interesting turn of the century piece set in Australia.

An Arcade of Books? I want to go there badly!

The writing style was very interesting and the characters colorful. I can see why it won an award. I'm surprised that I hadn't heard of it before except to stumble across it on Overdrive.
Susan
Jan 15, 2013 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australia
Takes place in Melbourne, Australia late 19th century. Following Edward Cole, an (eccentric) entrepreneur and his family. A fun, easy read. Gives probably a good feel about the city, the issues confronting the "young" country of Australia, federation, increasing institutional racism.
Lisa
May 06, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it
This was a really lovely read from start to finish. I enjoyed getting lost in the world that Cole was trying to create with his arcade. A light read with beautiful imagery, a little bit of conflict, and a lot of imagination.
Helen Dando
Oct 03, 2013 Helen Dando rated it liked it
Shelves:
Really enjoyed this book. I felt that I was there seeing it all. There was a sense of the unexpected and eccentricity which were really interesting.
I was surprised that the Yarra was not significant
Kristie Saumure
May 16, 2013 Kristie Saumure rated it it was amazing
Shelves: at-wcl
Loved it!!! Wish there was a bookshop like Cole's today. An amazing character - I loved learning more about his life. If only I could still visit the Arcade in Melbourne.
Urbaer
Apr 13, 2011 Urbaer rated it really liked it
Lisa does a marvellous job of giving us a glimpse into the heart and soul of one of Melbourne's most under appreciated shop owners.
Cathy
May 22, 2013 Cathy rated it it was amazing
A brief glimpse of historical Melbourne and a truly magical man with magical ideas. I really enjoyed this book
Katherine Simms
Feb 16, 2014 Katherine Simms rated it really liked it
An evocative read; wonderfully creative, with appealing and flawed characters. I loved it.
gargravarr
Jun 09, 2012 gargravarr rated it liked it
It was okay. I read it because I read the Cole's Funny Picture Books when I was younger.
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