I hear tell Gentle Jeff’s taken his hard drive into the bath again or something. Sigh, that boy! For once I’ve got something to plug that Skip Week Gap. As ever on these occasions I write about whatever I want knowing you won’t mind because you are all so lovely! And you are aren’t you? Weesss ooo arrrr! This time out I write about a British author who is in no danger of being called “Chuckles” anytime soon. One David Peace whose new novel, Red or Dead (VERY GOOD!) came out recently so I didn’t actually read anything else until it was done. It took some reading as well. He’s not the easiest read in the library, this David Peace guy. I was going to go on about that new one but I’m still cogitating. In the meantime let’s take Kylie’s tiny hand and step back in time to the books that made his name. Or not. Free Will, right? Anyway, this...
I say, did I ever tell you that David Peace once had the pleasure of meeting me. Oh wait, that’s later. For now let’s begin at the beginning. Traditional and shit, innit.
In the year of Our Lord 1967 a child was born of human love. This child, this future author, this David Peace, grew up in Ossett which is in West Yorkshire, Great Britain. Until 1974 West Yorkshire traded under the name of The West Riding of Yorkshire. Don’t worry about why; I just looked it up and unless you’re having trouble sleeping I wouldn’t stress over shifts in regional demarcation or naming. No, the important things to take away this far in are ‘1974’ and ‘West Riding’. Now, for our International viewers tuning in let me just explain that while Great Britain may well be smaller than the great state of Texas it is rich in regional divisions and distinctions. And, Boy Howdy, are folk proud of those. Particularly Yorkshire people, or ‘puddings’ as they prefer to be known. Yorkshire folk have a weird kind of self-deprecating arrogance; we’re better than everyone else but that’s no great shakes because everyone else is a bit shit to start off with. A bit like that. Now, I can’t prove it but I understand Keith Waterhouse (1929 – 1999; wrote Billy Liar etc.) used to tell a joke about a Yorkshireman who died and upon approaching The Pearly Gates was greeted by St Peter with the words; “Welcome to Heaven. You won’t like it.” That’s Yorkshire folk right there. And it might explain why David Peace’s books are so driven to refute the stance of noted philosopher Belinda Carlisle and posit that, rather than Heaven, it is in fact Hell which is a place on earth. And David Peace’s Hell is a Hell built by men. (And Margaret Thatcher.)
Peace got right on men’s case with his debut novel Nineteen Seventy Four (1999). Nineteen Seventy Four (as well as being painful to type out) is set in 2036 A.D. on the planet Bagwash. No, Nineteen Seventy Four is set in 1974 A.D. and is set mostly in The West Riding of Yorkshire and is all about the Evil that men do. Nineteen Seventy Four would prove to be the first in a four book cycle later termed The Red Riding Quartet, in much the same way as James Ellroy’s Black Dahlia (1987; VERY GOOD!) would mark the start of the L.A. Quartet. And, yes, of course The Demon Dog is here snuffling at our collective crotches already because Nineteen Seventy Four is pretty much the work of Yorkshire’s James Ellroy. Of course James Ellroy had already been happening for some years so Peace gets to cut the shit and his style starts at White Jazz (1992; EXCELLENT!). Nineteen Seventy Four is a pitch perfect balancing act of genre thrills and literary skills. That’s proper reviewing shit that last sentence is.
Nineteen Seventy Seven (2000) seems like a bit of a step backwards. This is where, I think, David Peace decided he aspired to be more than Yorkshire’s James Ellroy. Unfortunately he seems to have decided this after writing Nineteen Seventy Seven which reads like the work of someone stepping fully into the shadow of James Ellroy. Everything after Nineteen Seventy Seven reads like someone trying to shake off James Ellroy’s shadow. While Nineteen Seventy Seven is essential to the Quartet in that it continues and develops the themes and introduces a couple of characters of pivotal importance, it’s a bit trad, Dad. There’s a reason the 2009 TV adaptation of The Red Riding Quartet skipped Nineteen Seventy Seven is what I’m saying. However, if there’s a reason that same adaptation has an egregiously uplifting ending I am not party to it. In its defence it does have Sean Bean clad in a nasty sweater shouting about shopping centres so it’s not all bad. With Nineteen Seventy Seven it looked like David Peace had struck lucky with Nineteen Seventy Four and was just(!) going to be a pretty good genre author.
With the twin triumphs of Nineteen Eighty (2001) and Nineteen Eighty Three (2002) David Peace dragged this assumption into an abandoned lock up garage and danced on its head until his boots looked covered in jam. With Nineteen Eighty and Nineteen Eighty Three David Peace swiftly sidled into Serious Fiction and there he sullenly squats still. Because with Nineteen Eighty and Nineteen Eighty Three it became apparent that Peace was lifting the carpet of British History, clawing past the soiled and stained underlay, rooting down through the foundations and finally shattering the sewer pipe that ran beneath everything all along. This is England, says The Red Riding Quartet and this, this is how England fell. When misogyny, racism and homophobia are institutionalised, when misogyny, racism and homophobia are unquestioned, when misogyny, racism and homophobia are acceptable what, then, is unacceptable? And at the end of all this, at the end of four tubby books touted as serial killer thrillers, as police procedurals, as crime fiction the answer comes back. At the end of four fat bricks of almost unremitting foulness conveyed in repetitious and emaciated prose pressed into literary frameworks of increasing subtlety and complexity the answer comes back. And the answer is, nothing. Nothing is unacceptable. As long as there’s money in it for someone.
Fair warning for sweet souls; these are hard books to read. No, they are not easy books to read. From their unforgiving (relentless in its repetition) prose style to the draining focus on the sordid (relentless in its denial of light), no, these are not easy books to read. But they are worth reading. They are worth the effort. They will, I think, reward you if you make it out the other end. Start at the beginning. Start at Nineteen Seventy Four and see how it goes. The Red Riding Quartet is not easy because it is a portrait of a land insane. My land. And here my land is like an ulcerous cur tearing out its own stomach to bite the pain away. All of which flowery guff is just to say David Peace is EXCELLENT!
Welcome to David Peace. Welcome to Hell. You’ll like it.
BONUS: When David Met James!
Postscript: In Which I Light Up David Peace’s Life
It would have been 2007, I guess, as Tokyo Year Zero was the book David Peace was promoting at the time. I read in The Guardian (it has a good book section on Saturdays) that his promotional duties were to bring him to Sheffield. Having just relocated Sheffield was now practically on my doorstep. So it would have been rude not to go. As it turned out it was rude to go, but still. Perhaps our lives had merely been prelude as fickle Fate moved us both , the talented and modest writer and also David Peace, towards this ultimate showdown, this fateful face-off, conducted near the “New This Week” shelf in Waterstones, Sheffield. It was towards the end of dinner time creeping into the afternoon, I remember that. So I barged into the Sheffield branch of Waterstones my mind aflame with excitement at the prospect of exchanging words with a man whose words I had spent so much money on. Perhaps I would lean in just a little bit too closely and gather his scent in my nostrils to savour later at my leisure. I was expecting crowds; I was expecting bedlam; I was expecting droves; I was not expecting the shop to be practically empty. Wrong-footed and discombobulated I cast my gaze around the place; all the people I could see were a smartly dressed lady stood by a man sat at a table. So, I asked the lady if she knew where David Peace was and the lady inclined her hand to indicate the man at her side. I had not recognised him because he was wearing glasses and all I had to go on was a close cropped author photo that made him look like something off the cover of GQ.
So, now I’m flummoxed by the lack of crowds and, on top of that, I’ve just failed to recognise the very man I came to meet. Also, I was expecting some time to get my head in order, compose my silly self, practice my lines and all that. But, no, it’s clear that any second now David Peace (DAVID PEACE!) is going to politely raise himself up from his chair and extend his hand and I’ll have to say something and ohgodineedtimetoprepareitsalltoosuddentootoosuddennnurrrhhhh
“Hi!”, said David Peace, politely raising himself up from his chair and extending his hand. Was it the very hand that had written all those words, all those words I had read, those very words I had come to thank him for? Perhaps it was that hand. That very hand indeed.
“O!”, I said.
“O! I thought there’d be LOADS of people!”, I said.
And we all stood there.
In the silence.
The silence of loads of people not being there.
The silence suddenly as loud as thunder.
And we all stood there.
In the silence.
The silence of loads of people still not being there.
The silence that ended only when, with a face as red as a freshly smacked arse, I passed him my book. I muttered a quick thanks for all the books and for signing that book right there and fled. Out. Out into the street. Out onto the street where I leaned against a supporting pillar and swore like a sailor under my breath. And scant seconds later I saw David Peace emerge with his shoulder bag swinging and literary minder in tow. And that was the last time I ever did see David Peace. Scampering towards Sheffield city centre, receding into the distance and approaching the future in which he would write Occupied City (2009) and Red or Dead (2013) and I would go on to write a load of old crap; sometimes about whatever caught my fancy but mostly about - COMICS!!!!
David Peace – A Bibliography
Nineteen Seventy-Four (1999) VERY GOOD!
Nineteen Seventy-Seven (2000) GOOD!
Nineteen Eighty (2001) EXCELLENT!
Nineteen Eighty-Three (2002) EXCELLENT!
GB84 (2004) EXCELLENT!
The Damned Utd (2006) VERY GOOD!
Tokyo Year Zero (2007) VERY GOOD!
Occupied City (2009) GOOD!
Red or Dead (2013) VERY GOOD!