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“Choke!”, “Gasp!” Not A Podcast! BOOKS! Like Television But In Your Head!

John Kane

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…
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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.

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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!


7 Responses to “ “Choke!”, “Gasp!” Not A Podcast! BOOKS! Like Television But In Your Head! ”

  1. […] John Kane wrote about the novels of David Peace, as well as sharing a memory of an awkward meeting w…. […]

  2. Thanks for this, John. I was going to chastise you for not using “give Peace a chance” in your post title, but the more I thought about it, the more I should’ve been burned at the stake for even typing it.

    I adored eps. 1 and 3 of the Red Riding Trilogy (that Andrew Garfield has a future ahead of him!) and have given some thought about reading the books. Considering I’m still two books shy of an Underworld USA Trilogy, it may be a while but your piece definitely moved the books up the list a lot. Thanks!

  3. @That link: Hey n,ow that’s a classy site. I would’ve watched my Ps and Qs if I knew classy people were reading my babble. Cheers!

    @Jeff Lester: Gentle Jeff! I really was so sorry to hear about your tech disaster. I know I made light of it but, seriously, that’s a horrible thing that happened there. You have my sympathy, but that’s no use. You can’t go wrong with two tin cans and a bit of string, you know! I hope my piece on Peace (mehmehmeh!) cheered you up a bit. You KNOW I didn’t use “give Peace a chance” only because I didn’t think of it. You KNOW that. And you KNOW I WILL use “War And Peace” when (if) I do his Tokyo books because I am nothing if not wince-inducing!

    I can’t believe you haven’t finished the Demon Dog’s Underworld U.S.A trilogy! You’ve read The Hunger Games though, ain’t ya! I tell ya, in Blood’s A Rover Ellroy has only gone and put a Young Ellroy in as a major character. Sure, he swears it is someone else, but can we say horse-SHIT? Yes, we can. Ellroy is awesome; mad as a sack of cats, some might say, but awesome.

    What was wrong with ep.2 of Red Riding? Did you just miss it? I don’t know about you and the Red Riding books; I don’t know how well it travels. You might need the lovely Graeme on hand to explain all the Brit-centric ‘70s and ‘80s references; It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Lord Lucan, the Irish bombing campaign, the Bay City Rollers and all that’s just page 1 of book 1. Also every book starts at hysterical (not as in hysterically funny) and then remorselessly cranks that up, up and away until the end, at which point you feel like you’ve experienced a virtual nervous breakdown. That’s not everyone’s idea of A Good Time. Peace gets a lot of stick for all his ticks and tricks (and I can totally see why) but I just like ‘em! Have you watched Sidney Lumet’s The Offence yet?

    Oh, hey, I bought your book by the way. As soon as I saw the (beautifully designed) ad in fact. I also had an exciting discussion when My lady of Infinite Patience saw an E-Mail with “You Have Just purchased a book with “EROTIC” in the title!” Thanks for that, Jeff. Really; cheers. Super. I hope your literary endeavours are making you (all of you; it’s a collective thang right?) rich and happy. Congratulations! Obviously, being so Christ-like I am above envy, but if I was merely human I might be a bit green. So, congratulations and good luck to y’all forging forward into literary history!

  4. The Red Riding series was a very difficult series to get through as it was just so unremittingly bleak and bereft of hope. I absolutely love everything I’ve read from Peace and have tried to recommend his works to those who can stomach his writing. I didn’t actually know he had a new book out so thanks for the heads up

  5. @Eric: Glad you like ‘em too! Now you can put his new one on your Chrissie list! It’s a good ‘un.

  6. Hey John!

    I’m sorry I haven’t been around to read and comment on your articles. You are my favorite writer on the web and it’s been my great loss. I’ve just lost some of the passion for reading comic sites ever since I’ve begun working on my own. When I read comics now, I’m looking for stuff no one’s talking about.

    Anyway, you’ve had quite the influence on my book reading. I never read Ellroy before you made some reference in passing and he’s now one of my favorite writers. I read that HHhH book you talked about like 2 years ago…that was excellent. I bought a book called Sweet Tooth you liked a lot, too.

    So, your book columns are my favorite. I’m going to be adding this Peace fellow to my stack of books now, too. I might never get back to Denis Lehane at this rate! And Jo Nesbo…who’s going to read him is I don’t keep up with his Harry Hole series?

  7. @Chris Hero: Hey now! You are always so effusive in your praise I suspect you are having me on a bit! But mostly I just accept it as my due (ho ho).I am glad you enjoy the books I highlight, particularly if you have spent cash money on them.

    I looked up Jo Nesbo to check he really had a character called Harry Hole (he did!). Also, his books have covers featuring ladies with the same expression my mum has when she see the price of eggs these days. I’m sure he’s awesome but he won’t starve without you, I’m guessing.

    I hope your creating of comics is going well; it is a lot more difficult than it looks ain’t it? Rewarding though, right? Keep plugging away, slugger, and thanks for the feedback.

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