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Link to our threads on the movie versions of Red Riding and The Damned Utd. Link, too, to our thread on "Mystery and Detective Fiction" where Peace's books come up.

Right, then. All linking being out of the way...has anyone else here read Peace? I'm midway through the Red Riding Quartet, having finished all that's out of the Tokyo Trilogy, and I'm absolutely in love with this man's work. Which is an odd thing to say, given the topics he writes about (and, if anything, his books are darker than the films based on them, as I observed here), but something about his books compels reading.

They're not for the faint of heart; even his protagonists do horrible things to themselves and to other people, and the worlds he writes about (Yorkshire in the seventies; Tokyo just after WWII) are decaying and sordid. Things seldom end well; if you're the protagonist in a Peace novel you can bet that you'll end up insane, dead, or insane then dead. And yet, Peace shows the desperation of these times and men so effectively that one can't help but be sucked in.

Recently, I came across a 'blog called k-punk, and the author there has several posts on Peace, including this one: "'Can the World be as Bad as it Seems?' David Peace and Negative Theodicy". In that post, the author gets to what I think is the heart of Peace's relationship with the sordid:

In Peace's hands, this question becomes an urgent theological enquiry, the very relentlessness of the sadness and misery he recounts calling forth an absent God, a God who is experienced as absence, the great light eclipsed by the world's unending tears. The deeply ambivalent TG-esque preacher Reverend Laws (who, TG-like, replaces "I" with "E" and "the" with "thee") may be the one who can put us in touch with this God, the Abandoned Christ who is himself forsaken, the redeemer who is not the creator. But the world, the sad, desolated world, is full of angels whose wings have either been shorn off, reduced to stubble, or which have grown into gigantic, dirty monstrosities... addict angels hooked on alcohol, casual but incessant lusts, and the trash of the consumer society that is struggling to be born out of the wreckage of the Fordist social consensus... angels whose ultimate response to the world is puking (everyone pukes in Peace's books), throwing up the whiskies and the undercooked crispy pancakes, but never being able to purge any of it, never being able to take flight.

Peace is, in The Red Riding Quartet, clearly interested in religion; at one point in Nineteen Seventy Seven, Jack Whitehead finds his thoughts about the Yorkshire Ripper and the pornography ring he's uncovered mixing with images of Christ on the Cross; the suffering Christ and the suffering world seem to be linked, but the only way out Whitehead can finally discover is an amateur lobotomy at the hands of an insane preacher. From what I understand of the way the Quartet ends, it's not so redemptive as the filmed adaptations--Peace seems to be a pessimist in many ways regarding the hope for change in this world (of course, his next novel--due out in 2012--is Tokyo Regained, which holds out a promise, at least, of some sort of redemption).

[i notice that I've not said anything about Peace's prose style, which I've seen compared to Ellroy in several places. I've run on too long for an introductory post already, so let me just say that I find Peace's voice incantatory, moving--powerfully pulling the reader along toward the final dissolution that replaces resolution in the books].

Has anyone else here read these books?

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  • 4 weeks later...

From what I understand of the way the Quartet ends, it's not so redemptive as the filmed adaptations--Peace seems to be a pessimist in many ways regarding the hope for change in this world (of course, his next novel--due out in 2012--is Tokyo Regained, which holds out a promise, at least, of some sort of redemption).

I'm going to have to revise that statement, because while the ending of the Quartet is hardly as uplifting as the filmed trilogy, it's actually in some ways more redemptive; like Whitehead, Maurice Jobson finds the only hope possible in the figure of the crucified Christ--and in a vision of Jack Whitehead himself:

'How can you still [...] believe?' I shouted. 'After all the things you've seen?'

'It's the things I've not seen,' he said.

'I don't understand.'

'During an eclipse there is no sun,' he smiled, 'Only darkness.'

'I don't--'

'The sun is still there,' he said. 'You just can't see it.'


'But in your heart you know the sun will shine again, don't you?'

I nodded.

'Faith,' he whispered--

'The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

I turned again to the Pieta. I turned back to the wounded Christ--

No other name.

There was a hand squeezing mine--

A ten-year-old girl with blue eyes and long straight fair hair, wearing an orange waterproof kagool, a dark blue turtleneck sweater, pale blue denim trousers with a distinctive eagle motif on the back left pocket and red Wellington boots, holding a plastic Co-op carrier bag in her other hand.

I looked down at my hand in hers--

There were no bruises on the backs of my hands [where before there have been through the entire book--bruises indicating the permanent damage to Jobson's soul]

'He was not abandoned,' smiled Clare [Kemplay, the dead girl--also the name of Jobson's daughter] 'He is loved.'

In a way, I think the section I've spoilered out is far stronger than what we get in the films, and more in keeping with the world of the books.

Having finished the Quartet, I'm inclined to think that the second book (Nineteen Seventy-Seven, which deals with Jack Whitehead) is the strongest of the lot; certainly the figure of Jack looms even larger in the novels than Eddie Dunford or Maurice Jobson; everyone thinks about him, everyone tries to find him to talk to him--in the end, he becomes a kind of heartbroken mystic-sage. The fact that he's cut so decisively out of the film versions demands an almost complete reworking of the final two movies--something I'll probably bring up when I get around to re-watching 1983 and comparing my thoughts on the book-vs-film issue in the appropriate thread.

EDIT: One other thing: I've seen the adaptations compared to Lynch, and it's got to be said that most of that comparison holds true to the books as well; Peace's books are almost letter-perfect examples of the sort of thing Lynch would do if he wrote crime thrillers. This is particularly true of Nineteen Eighty--which is funny, since of all the films the adaptation of that novel is the most straightforward.

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  • 1 month later...

Did the server switch-over eat a bunch of posts? Ah, well. I'll just stick this quote back here because I think it's worth having in the thread:

Reading is important and people don't do it enough, again myself included. It does seem to me, holed up out here in my Tokyo bunker, that the affluent societies of the East and the West lack any form of direction or guidance, that we are simply spinning in a moral void. Where religion and government have either been banished or abdicated, business has stepped in. To bastardise Dylan, it would seem to me that one has to be moral to live outside God and we are plainly not. I still believe reading to be a redemption of sorts and that with e-mail and the Internet we are perhaps reading (and writing) more and watching less. Either way though, we're still talking too much and listening too little. I don't distinguish between religion and politics; just as everything is political, so it is religious. For me politics is the asking of questions, religion the receiving of answers. But we have known in our hearts the answers for almost two thousand years; that we chose to ignore those answers is the greatest crime.
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So I just finished The Damned Utd. It’s good—very good—and very different from the movie version. For one thing, the movie includes a redemption of sorts for Clough. That redemption is utterly absent in the novel. For another thing, Clough here is far darker and more obsessive than the Sheen version: he obsesses over his lost career as a footballer, obsesses over losing Derby, obsesses over Don Revie (though far less here than in the movie). Indeed, the theme here—as in most of Peace’s fiction—is obsession: obsession with the past, obsession with fame, obsession with self. The religious element, too, is here, but mostly by negation. Over and over, Clough insists that he doesn’t believe in God (though sometimes he wishes he did) or in luck. At the same time, the novel is prefaced by a quotation from Jeremiah 12:7-9—which points, I think, to a broader social meaning for the novel.

This broader context is underlined by the fact that Peace ends the novel by drawing a parallel between Margaret Thatcher’s win in 1979 and Clough’s triumph at the European Cup. I’m not entirely certain what this means, but it seems that Peace is drawing a parallel between Clough’s single-minded desire to win and Thatcher’s policies. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about what Thatcher’s policies were to make a more definitive pronouncement; I know that Peace is critical of her actions during the miner’s strike of 1984 (mainly because he wrote a book about it: GB84, the only remaining Peace novel I haven’t read). On the whole, I think I prefer the Red Riding quartet or the Tokyo books to this one, but it’s an engrossing read nonetheless.

There's also the matter of the title. "Damned" is used here in a double sense--on the one hand, it's similar to "Damned Yankees," but on the other we get the impression--both from the prefatory material and from one section where Clough compares Leeds to Hell--that Clough (and perhaps Britain itself, given the way he is tied to Thatcher) is among the damned. It's an interesting way of elevating the sports novel to the level of social history.

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"After the Disaster, Before the Disaster"

To mark the anniversary of the Fukushima catastrophe on 11 March last year, David Peace has written a story about the 1923 Japanese earthquake

First paragraph or so:

In an emergency such as this earthquake, art is useless, to say the least. Our recent experience only helped expose the ultimate futility of all artistic endeavours.

– Ruminations on the Earthquake,

Kikuchi Kan, 1923

After the disaster, Ryunosuke lived for four more years.

Before the disaster, Ryunosuke had been in his study in his home in Tabata, in the north of Tokyo. Throughout the morning, there had been brief showers and a strong wind while Ryunosuke read newspaper reports on the formation of a new cabinet under Count Yamamoto. Just before noon, he had finished the last article and lit a cigarette when he felt a slight vibration. Moments later, his house was shaking to an extraordinary degree and Ryunosuke could hear tiles falling from the roof above him and his family screaming from other rooms below him. But the shaking did not subside, as was usual, and the motion continued to intensify. Ryunosuke put out his cigarette. He tried to stand but the floor tilted and rolled again beneath his feet, so he was forced to sit back down at his desk. Then, at last, the waves of shocks seemed to lessen and Ryunosuke could finally stand and join his family outside in the garden.

The story is part of an anthology called March was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown.

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The Independent: "Damned United author David Peace to pen Bill Shankly novel."

Today, Peace’s publishers Faber and Faber announced that, after a series of novels based in Japan, Peace will be returning to write about English football with a novel about legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly.

According to the linked announcement, this novel's due in August, and the last book in the Tokyo Trilogy will come after that.

Here's Peace on why he's writing about Shankly:

I have written about corruption, I've written about crime, I've written about bad men and I've written about the demons. But now I've had enough of the bad men and the demons. Now I want to write about a good man. And a saint. A Red Saint. Bill Shankly was not just a great football manager. Bill Shankly was one of the greatest men who ever lived. And the supporters of Liverpool Football Club, and the people of Liverpool the city, know that and remember him. But many people outside of football, outside of Liverpool, do not know or do not remember him. And now – more than ever – it's time everybody knew about Bill Shankly. About what he achieved, about what he believed. And how he led his life. Not for himself, for other people.
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August 15

Looking ahead to Red or Dead’s publication, Faber’s Lee Brackstone said: “A novel about one of the great good men of British football comes as such a tonic and a wake-up call in these days of extraordinary wealth, privilege and abuse of power in the Premier League. There quite simply could not be a better time, culturally and politically, for this novel.”

--so, again, they're emphasizing that this book, of all of Peace's novels, is about a good man--and the idea is that narratives of good people can work for political and cultural change. Which is an interesting direction for Peace to take, considering none of his books (with the possible exception of GB84, unread by me) actually feature ethically good characters; indeed, part of the point of those books is that everyone is corrupted. [Then again, perhaps they're trying to avoid the outrage that came about when Peace wrote The Damned Utd]

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David Peace Reads from 'Red or Dead'


It's less dense than the stuff he's been turning out in the Tokyo Trilogy, but it keeps the quality I most enjoy about Peace's writing--a kind of incantatory, repetitious flow that reminds me a bit of Faulkner at times. It's a style perfectly suited to lulling the reader into a particular mood. Of course, it's a mood that lends itself to the dark, obsessive world of his crime fiction (and of The Damned Utd); I'm not sure how it will come across in a novel "about a good man. And a saint." But the book itself apparently comes out in a week, and I pre-ordered it, so I guess I'll find out soon enough.

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The Telegraph reviews Red or Dead:


Red or Dead, Peace’s latest novel, would seem at first to indicate a way out of the corner into which his previous work had painted him. A 700-page fiction, it revolves around the life of Bill Shankly, the footballer-turned-manager who led Liverpool FC from the doldrums of the Second Division to a string of resounding victories between 1959 and 1974. It is Peace’s longest and least haunted book, forsaking the shadows of his back catalogue for the jubilant atmosphere of the Kop at Anfield. It’s also a personal project for its author, who describes Shankly as “a saint, one of the greatest men who ever lived”. This happy impression that things have changed lasts all the way through the colophon and the title page to the book’s first words, which are “Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.”


Red or Dead elevates repetition, always Peace’s signature device, into the organising principle of a story that runs from Shankly’s first week with Liverpool to his death 22 years later. Built around Shankly’s statement that “my life is my work, my work is my life”, it portrays its subject, as in a medieval hagiography, not through the examination of his character but by recording his deeds and reporting his words. In practice, this means mixing lengthy transcripts of press interviews with a thumping, incantatory style designed to drive home the sheer repetitious effort of the events described [....]


To Peace’s credit, this grand-scale act of mimesis, obsessed with scorecard minutiae and shot with moments of orgasmic relief, often succeeds in communicating the passionate, remorseless drive of its subject. In the book’s final third, he also plays some clever variations on the theme, transfiguring pages of joyous work into chapters of endless drudgery after Shankly retires.


But it’s unreasonable to expect a whole book to exist on the razor’s edge of parody, and Peace’s unrestrained desire to draw parallels between his character and another of history’s famous socialists does little to swing the balance in his favour. “That was all Bill wanted,” he writes. “One more cup. In the wilderness. A cup, a grail. The grail.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

In the interest of continuing to lobby for Peace's work, here is a selection of reviews of Red or Dead:


The Guardian


Red Or Dead is a masterpiece. David Peace already has a considerable reputation but this massive, painstaking account of the career of Bill Shankly towers above his previous work. It's usual when praising a sports novel for critics to claim that "it's not really about baseball/running/beach volleyball – the sport is a metaphor". Make no mistake, this book is about football. Unremittingly, uncompromisingly about football. It's what Shankly would have wanted. For Shankly, ephemera such as life, love and death could be metaphors for football, never the other way round. Football was the thing itself.



Looks like Peace will be continuing the politics-football connection he indicated in The Damned Utd, btw:


Red Or Dead tells the story of how an unambitous, conservative board of directors, concerned only with ensuring a profit clicked through the turnstiles, inadvertently hired a charismatic, visionary socialist who revolutionised the game and would like to have revolutionised the nation.



The Belfast Telegraph


There are extremely long, impressionistic passages about some of the better known aspects of an extraordinary life, specifically Shankly's reverence for the memory of fighters like Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, his awkward parting with one of the greatest of his signings, Ian St John, and the anguish that came with his sense, rightly or wrongly, that all his achievements at Anfield had been quickly forgotten by the Liverpool board. They do not tell us anything, emotionally or factually, that we don't already know.


But then so far, so good – the fictional liberties do not appear to have ridden roughshod over the nuances of a great if extremely eccentric man's life.





It is a massive book. But it is massively important too. For anyone who lived through the time it recalls, it will fill them with joyous nostalgia for a bygone age. For those who came after it, it will fill them with an uneasy realisation that they were born a generation too late. Because this is the wonderful story of a man whose life was changed by a decision he made in nineteen fifty-nine, a decision that changed the lives of those he was in daily contact with, a decision that changed the lives of thousands, tens of thousands, that he never knew.  Yes, this man’s story has been told before … but never in this way.





Peace has built what is a worthy monument to a figure light years removed from the megabucks and hype of today’s football. It doesn’t matter if you don’t follow the game, this is also a profound investigation of the tension between aspiration and the constraints of time, the very essence of the human condition.



Irish Examiner


Football fans who read and either loved or loathed Peace’s The Damned Utd — his fictional take on Brian Clough’s 44 bizarre days as manager of Leeds United in 1974 — will be familiar with this writer-on-steroids technique; the remorseless use of repetition in what is termed & a novelised biography — or biographical fiction — in which much of the action is based on published records. Peace cites 54 source books, including Shankly’s autobiography, plus fan forums and supporter websites. The dialogue, including Shankly’s internal narrative, is drawn from Peace’s imagination.

It works now and again, or is tolerable, when for example, Peace has Shankly, in 1961, telling his assistants about his intelligence-gathering plan: “Gentlemen,” said Bill Shankly, “This season we are going to watch every team in our division. Every single team. Before they come to us, before we go to them. Every single thing about every single team. Their strengths and their weaknesses. And so we need to watch them all. Before they come to us, before we go to them. And then we are going to come back here and we are going to talk about them. Discuss them and analyse them. And then we will be prepared. Before they come to us, before we go to them. We will be prepared.”

But perhaps only the most devoted students of Shankly’s legacy might find such passages compelling.



Another clip:




I very rarely drop everything to read a new book (most of the time it gets slotted in further down the list, in the pile of "and maybe nexts"). But I'm definitely going to be dropping everything and reading this as soon as it comes in. And I don't even like football (of either the British or the American sort).


EDIT: Here's Peace himself on Red or Dead:




His comment on "material gains and spiritual losses" suggests ways in which Red or Dead might tie into the concerns raised in his earlier fiction: the disintegration of community has always been a primary concern of Peace (along with the disintegration of narrative itself), but it's always shown up in a negative way: 1974-1984 Yorkshire and post-WWII Tokyo are places where the disintegration has already taken place (interestingly, in this interview Peace places the shift from community in 1979, the year Thatcher became Prime Minister--and see, again, how Peace connects Clough and Thatcher in The Damned Utd). It certainly sounds like Peace is going for a positive vision here: not a community that has disintegrated, but one that, for all that it will disintegrate, exists for a brief shining moment.


Or not. I ordered the book from Bookdepository, before it was available (more cheaply!) on Amazon, so I'm still waiting for it to show up at my door. I'm eager to test out these ideas against the text itself.

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And now The Mirror:


Whether you’re inspired to live your life with just a fraction of Shankly’s drive and determination, or to boot up Football Manager and give it a damn good seeing-to, that’s entirely down to you. But you do get a heavy waft of character, a sense of the battles Shankly must have fought in order to turn a cash-strapped, ramshackle second division club into one of the biggest teams in England. 


The scenes with chairman Tom Williams, the tone with which directors of all clubs address Shankly, the love of wife Ness, the wise consul of Matt Busby, there’s a glorious story in here, but it’s just covered in such thick brambles of repetitive prose that many readers would happily gouge their own eyes out before the halfway stage just to make sure they never have to read that bit about the washing up again.



FWIW, I'm 258 pages in right now, and I can see what the reviewer means. I don't agree with it; I like Peace's style. I doubt I'd be reading the book if it weren't for Peace's style. But it's definitely an acquired taste. (I will say that there's passage after passage just like the selection in the YouTube clip above. I don't know enough to say that Peace narrates every game, but he must come darn close).


Hopefully, I'll have the book finished before the semester starts here at UA and I'll be able to offer a more original, more detailed take. Something that isn't just posting reviews. Something that's perhaps even convincing. We'll see.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, there it is. 715 pages about [british] football, about [british] football managers, about [british] football fans. I started this one month ago—probably exactly one month ago—and rushed to finish by the start of the semester. Obviously, I failed in that attempt. But I did get it read by the end of the first or second full week. So that’s something.


Ok, then. So it’s David Peace, which means it goes in for all sorts of interesting (or maddening, I guess, depending on your perspective) formal tricks. Or, rather—and this is in contrast to the madcap inventiveness of Occupied City, his previous novel—Peace goes in for one sort of interesting narrative trick: repetition (which is well within his wheelhouse)—but repetition of very set things. Of very formal things. Of almost ritualistic things (thus: “At home. At Anfield” occurs with frightening regularity). And a kind of maximalist description that might make even David Foster Wallace yawn; I’m pretty sure that every single game Bill Shankly played as manager of the Liverpool Football Club, every home game and every away game, every won game and every lost game—is noted, recorded, in the same sometimes-monotonous and then suddenly electrifying cadence. And those electrifying moments, for me, make the monotony worth in. In that way, I imagine that reading the book is a bit like watching (or playing or managing) a football game. Repetition, repetition, repetition, punctuated with moments of wild excitement.


Some readers might not like this tic. Some might find it wears after the first six hundred pages; and they would be within their rights to protest as much. But the important question here is what Peace is attempting—which is, I think, the transcription of the thoughts of an honest, humane, basically good man—that is, of Bill Shankly.


Shankly is unique among Peace protagonists in that he is not insane, nor is he evil, nor is he drawn into the corruption around him. Rather, he is something else—a shining beacon of hope, a sign that there is a way of living that is not mean, is not dirty or narrow. Hagiography, some have called the book; iconography, certainly—Shankly by the end of the novel has transformed into a kind of saint (and might be taking a train ride through the afterlife with Harold Smith and Nikita Kruschev).


So yeah, Shankly is a saint and the novel is long and the prose monotonous at times. But one really does leave the book feeling the same deep warmth that must suffuse admirers of Shankly—affection that I’ve only seen given toward, I dunno, Bear Bryant. So it’s also made me more forgiving of the crazy football people around me.


This isn’t my favorite Peace novel, and it’s not the first I’ll reach for when it comes time to re-read him. But it’s good in the most basic sense of the word.


Now he just needs to finish that last book in the Tokyo Trilogy….

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  • 10 months later...

Recently, I came across a 'blog called k-punk, and the author there has several posts on Peace, including this one: "'Can the World be as Bad as it Seems?' David Peace and Negative Theodicy".


The author, by the way, is Mark Fisher, who also wrote the very good Capitalist RealismThe post linked above seems to be included--and, presumably, expanded upon--in Fisher's Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures.

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  • 2 years later...

I can't believe I didn't update the thread.

Who Is Patient X? The new novel by David Peace. Not a conclusion to the Tokyo Trilogy--which is now scheduled to end in 2019 (maybe). Another thing entirely, though still set in Japan:

Inspired and informed by the life and works of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, it is described by Editorial Director, Angus Cargill, as ‘a stunning novel of tales which showcases everything that is so unique about David Peace and his work. Haunting, inspiring and passionate, Patient X explores the role of the artist, in times which darkly mirror our own.’

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was one of Japan’s great writers – author of the stories ‘Rashōmon’ and ‘In a Bamboo Grove’, most famously – who lived through Japan’s turbulent Taishō period of 1912 to 1926, including the devastating 1923 Earthquake, only to take his own life at the age of just thirty-five in 1927.


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