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Utopian Man

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  134 Ratings  ·  37 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
Paperback, 248 pages
Published 2010 by Allen & Unwin
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Apr 03, 2011 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
Steve lovell
Nov 07, 2011 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
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
Oct 25, 2010 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
Petris Schrodelis
Mar 20, 2011 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
May 22, 2011 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
Aug 14, 2012 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.
Halena Frick
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fun read. Enjoyed the setting and the historical info.
Jane (yesmissjane)
Aug 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: biograph
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 20, 2013 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
Jan 05, 2014 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
Apr 29, 2013 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
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
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
Feb 09, 2013 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.
May 07, 2013 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.
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: year-read-2014
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.
Jan 15, 2013 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.
Oct 09, 2012 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
Sep 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Interesting, but too maudlin.
Dec 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Rich and wonderful snapshot of one of Melbourne's most interesting characters.
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Lovely book about a lovely man. And a wonderful depiction of Melbourne.
Oct 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Not what I expected.
Feb 13, 2015 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.
Kristie Saumure
Apr 12, 2013 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.
Jodi Blackman
Jul 29, 2016 rated it liked it
A good Australian novel.
Jan 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Quite a good read but disjointed.
Apr 13, 2011 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.
Jess Hadlow
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
The ending has me a little out-of-sorts, but I loved this book!
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“He imagines Owens' body dotted with saltwater reservoirs just below the skin. An entire wetland, populated with tiny fish and birds, thriving in his agitation. A species of dwarf crocodile lazing beside an artery.” 1 likes
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