Utopian Man

Lisa Lang

Utopian Man
Allen & Unwin
1 September 2010

Utopian Man

Lisa Lang

Winner of the Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award 2009.

‘Really impressive, vivid and enjoyable.’ Cate Kennedy

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 filling it with whatever amuses him, or supports his favourite causes: a giant squid, a brass band, monkeys, a black man whose skin has turned white, a Chinese tea salon, and of course, hundreds of thousands of books.    When Edward decides to marry he advertises for a wife in the newspaper, shocking and titillating the whole town. To everyone’s surprise he marries his broadsheet bride and the Arcade grows into a monumental success.

But the 1890s depression hits Melbourne - and Edward - hard, and the death of one of his children leaves him reeling. Grief, corruption and a beautiful, unscrupulous widow all threaten to derail his singular vision. But it’s not until he visits Chinatown one night - and his own deeply suppressed past  - that the idealist faces his toughest challenge.

Utopian Man is the story of a man who lives life on his own terms, and leaves behind a remarkable legacy.


Cole’s Book Arcade, which at its height included a printing press, tea rooms, musical entertainments and resident monkeys, as well as thousands of books, was a vibrant and wondrous part of Melbourne life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The man behind it, E.W. Cole, was seen by some as a visionary, others as a dangerous crackpot spreading inflammatory ideas about equal value of religions, and of mankind, whatever their race or colour.

Lisa Lang’s novel, co-winner of the 2009 Vogel Award, depicts Cole as an energetic, optimistic eccentric driven by love for his family (his wife who, famously, was the only serious applicant to a newspaper advertisement he placed for a spouse, and their six children), desire to spread good cheer, as well as information, to the people of Melbourne, and his deep sense of justice.

The novel is a captivating ride through the booms and busts of Marvellous Melbourne, past the coming of Federation and into the Edwardian era, ending with Cole’s death in 1918 – a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the man who conceived the marvels of the arcade and about the Melbourne of his times.

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