- Naoya Sanuki
- Ossett, England
David Peace was born in 1967 and grew up in Ossett, near Wakefield.
He left Manchester Polytechnic in 1991, and went to Istanbul to teach English. In 1994 he took up a teaching post in Tokyo and now lives there with his family. His formative years were shadowed by the activities of the Yorkshire Ripper, and this had a profound influence on him which led to a strong interest in crime. His quartet of Red Riding books grew from this obsession with the dark side of Yorkshire. These are powerful novels of crime and police corruption, using the Yorkshire Ripper as their basis and inspiration. They are entitled Nineteen Seventy-Four (1999), Nineteen Seventy-Seven (2000), Nineteen Eighty (2001), and Nineteen Eighty-Three (2002), and have been translated into French, Italian, German and Japanese. The Quartet was adapted into a 3-part serial for Channel 4 Television, Red Riding, broadcast in 2009.
In 2003 David Peace was named by Granta magazine as one of twenty 'Best of Young British Novelists'. His novel, GB84, set amid the 1984 miners' strike, was published in 2005. The Damned Utd (2006), recreates Brian Clough's time at Leeds United Football Club, and was made into a film starring Martin Sheen, released in 2009. Red Or Dead, another novel about football management, this time Bill Shankly and Liverpool Football Club, appeared in 2013.
Tokyo Year Zero (2007) is the first of a trilogy set in Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II, the second in the series being Occupied City (2009).
For those who go to novels seeking comfort or consolation, David Peace does not come recommended. This author’s work is bleak, violent and political.
The kind guaranteed not to attract too much attention from the Booker judges, then, though Peace did find a place on the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list of 2003. As if keen to ignore the possibility of having his fate determined by his own surname, Peace does everything he can in his novels to upset conventions, eschewing linear narrative and obvious heroes and villains, in favour of formal daring, linguistic innovation and multidimensional characters. We are presented with an amoral, corrupt universe, a place of power games and blood feuds, in which people justify their wrongdoing as necessary acts of self-protection. Much like our own universe.
Peace shares with James Ellroy, a wry humour, an obsession with the despotic nature of authority, and an interest in the selfish nature of human beings. His clipped style, in which truncated sentences lend the prose the rhythm of jazz, is also reminiscent of the modern master of American noir, as this excerpt from 1974 (1999) demonstrates:
Cats and bloody dogs. Motorway One back to Leeds, lorry-thick and the going slow. Pushing the Viva a hard sixty-five in the rain, as good as it got.
However, despite the obvious influence of Ellroy, Peace is his own man. His writing is suffused with intense bursts of apocalyptic poetry. It rages like the cab driver in Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky. Its use of repetition rivals that of Peter Cook, even if Peace manipulates it in order to build manic intensity rather than create absurdist comedy.
‘The Red Riding Quartet,’ Peace’s tetralogy of novels inspired by the Yorkshire Ripper murders, is one of the finest achievements in modern fiction. 1974 (1999), 1977 (2000), 1980 (2001) and 1983 (2002) are an ingeniously interlinked and impressively sustained series of books. These books take the crime genre, grab it by the balls, and make it plead for its life. The novels are visceral and unflinching; the anger within them is there as a means of demanding that the reader think about the horror of decaying institutions, what terrors might be inflicted in the name of the maintenance of power, or simply as a consequence of psychopathy. These books feature dyspeptic journalists, policeman who rape and kill, and venal property developers. The violence is gratuitous, but such is the force of the writing that the refusal to take the reader away from the most disturbing of images can be seen as a moral act. Peace is not writing in order to titillate adolescent imaginations. Sentences such as ‘her intestines had spilled out onto the ground where they wallowed like pigs in the mud,’ are not written for those benumbed by the ubiquity of onscreen horror, but rather for those who still want to register its impact. Peace sees corruption everywhere and demands that his readers take it for what it is.
GB84 (2004), which won the author the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, is concerned with the civil war that was the Miner’s Strike of the mid 1980s, a time when there was last a discernible distinction between left and right in British politics, when the demagoguery and fanaticism of Mrs. Thatcher and Arthur Scargill lead to the destruction of families, communities and industries. Peace recreates the turbulence of this period, during which the social democracy that had been established in the United Kingdom after the Second World War, was finally defeated by the revolutionaries in Number Ten, who had not only imported the monetarist economic model formulated by Chicago University academics such as Milton Friedman, but also intended to apply it at all costs. GB84 combines documentary realism – diaries from two striking miners which capture the day-to-day struggle, the sweat and blood of the picket line, the pitched battles with the police, the endless boredom and endless talking – with a fast-paced conspiracy thriller. The latter is the fictional tale of ‘the Jew’ – a mysterious Government operative involved in an ongoing operation to destroy the strike – and the swirl of Neo-Nazi mercenaries around his driver and cohort Neil Fontaine. Peace is unrelenting in his attempt to demonstrate the lengths the Government will go to destroy the will of the striking miners and bring the dispute to an end. He juxtaposes the unscrupulous actions of the Government with the ultimately fatal hubris of the NUM leadership. He depicts a corrupt and incompetent organisation, beset by pettiness and the establishment of factions, ill-equipped to take on a Government going beyond the law in the search for its victory. Peace’s novel makes great demands on the reader’s patience and attention. At times GB84 is difficult to follow, but it is the very complexity of it which makes the effort of reading all the more worthwhile. This is a significant book, a testament to the wounds, which are still open for many, of a time when the country was fighting over its soul and its future.
In 2007 Peace published the first part of the ‘Tokyo Trilogy’. He has since published the second part, Occupied City (2009). Tokyo Year Zero deals with a post Second-World War city which is bleeding from the inside out. Detective Minami is reluctantly investigating the murder of two young women. He is also trying, and failing, to fight away the ghosts of his past. How is this man connected to these deaths? The constant repetition of certain phrases, the movement from rapid bare narrative to fevered interior monologue and grandiloquent pronouncement, is often confusing. Toyko Year Zero is formally reminiscent of GB84, yet does not have the force of that novel. It is as if the author is attempting to pull off the same routine on the same audience, an audience which was hoping for a different rabbit or at least a different hat. It is the portrait of a ravaged and disturbed city, however, where ‘no one is who they say they are,’ and ‘no one is who they seem to be’ that is this novel’s most convincing and memorable aspect. Occupied City, another fiction based on fact, an approach to storytelling which is the author’s stock-in-trade, is a fictionalised treatment of the story of the Teikoku Bank Massacre, which took place in a Tokyo suburb in 1948, during which a man dressed as a medical official persuaded sixteen people to drink a liquid which he said would protect them from an outbreak of dysentery. Cue mass death, robbery, manhunt. This incident is notorious in recent Japanese history and Peace’s fictional treatment of it is a hallucinatory jumble of perspectives, which uses typographical changes to indicate shifts in narration, as we are invited to wonder who is responsible for the crime. However, too much is asked of the form of the novel itself, that the content becomes lost. A more conventional telling of what amounts to a paranoid conspiracy thriller may have been a more effective means of telling the story. GB84 has raw anger at is centre, but in the Tokyo novels, the style begins to feel a little tired, overwhelmed by the demands being made upon it. Any reader of Toyko Year Zero and Occupied City would gain from doing research into life in Japan in the late 1940s. With fictions based on facts, much of the pleasure of reading the fiction comes from having some kind of acquaintance with the fact. These two novels are perhaps best appreciated by those who have an intimate knowledge of the history and culture of contemporary Japan. Peace himself has spent many years living and working in that country.
The novel which followed GB84, The Damned Utd (2006), a recreation of Brian Clough’s 44-day reign at Leeds United in 1974, is Peace’s masterpiece. It is as fresh as anything seen in recent British fiction. It is not only one of the best books ever written about sport, it is among the most memorable novels written on any subject in the last decade. Peace creates an intense, irrepressible, incantatory rhythm; he manages to get so deeply inside the psychology of Brian Clough that it is hard to imagine that any conventional biography could ever come as close to capturing the Shakespearean grandeur and manifold contradictions that constituted the essence of ‘old big ‘ead’, even though Duncan Hamilton did a very good job of attempting to do just that with his Provided You Don’t Kiss Me (2007). Peace splits his narrative between two aspects of Clough’s life: in the parts of the novel which are narrated in the second person, we read of a young man, his playing career destroyed by injury, reinventing himself as a brilliant manager; and in the parts which are narrated in the first person, we are presented with the national celebrity, a man who has won the First Division Championship with lowly Derby County and is now taking on the top job at mighty Leeds Utd, a club he despises:
Off the motorway; the South West Urban Motorway. Round the bends. The corners. To the junction with Lowfields Road. Onto Elland Road. Sharp right and through the gates. Into the ground. The West Standcar park. No place reserved. The press. The cameras and the lights. The fans. The autograph books and the pens. I open the door. I do up my cuffs. The rain in our hair. I get my jacket out of the back. I put it on. My eldest and my youngest hiding behind me. The rain in our faces. The hills behind us. The houses and the flats. The ground in front of us. The stands and the lights. Across the car park. The potholes and the puddles. This one bloke pushing his way through the press. The cameras and the lights.The fans –
Peace is among the most fascinating writers to have emerged in the last decade. Serious in an age of irony, and political in a time of disengagement, it is the case that when he most effectively marries form with content, as he does in The Damned Utd, there is no one like him.
Garan Holcolmbe, 2013