Like many others, I fell for David Peace, the now-ubiquitous, overground Yorkshire-born novelist, after reading The Damned United (NOW A MAJOR FILM!), which I remember grabbing off the shelf at Borders when the two books I’d specifically gone in to buy turned out to have “three for two” stickers on and the woman at the till helpfully pointed out my missed opportunity. He had me by the end of the first page. (Actually, I liked the table before it even starts, showing Leeds United’s progress during the 1974-75 season.) Having been an actual football fan in 1974-75, aged 9-10, the subject matter of Brian Clough’s 44 days at Leeds gave me a lot of Proustian rushes, but this is a grown-up book, not a book for boys, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in how the male mind works, whether they have an interest in the game or not. I’m seeing the film tomorrow – it simply cannot replicate the book.
Naturally, having devoured The Damned, I was keen to investigate this mystery man’s previous books – it turned out there were loads of them! Funnily enough, it was another offer, in a different Borders – this time “two for one” – that helped me take the plunge: I purchased 1974 and GB84.
Peace, who absorbed so much pride and prejudice from his Yorkshire upbringing he was able to relocate permanently to Tokyo to write his books about it, is my kind of novelist, as he sets his fictional stories – or fictionalised stories – against living, breathing, documentary backdrops. Although the characters that run through the Red Riding Quartet – 1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983 (GB84, set against the Miners’ Strike, is separate, but very much in the same groove) – are made up, they operate in the real world. So, the Yorkshire Ripper is named in 1977 and 1980, but his victims’ names and dates are changed, to protect the families, presumably. George Oldfield, who led the case, becomes George Oldman. John Stalker becomes Peter Hunter. These may seem like cosmetic changes, and they are to a degree, but the surrounding detail is accurate to the dates of the singles played on car radios and other news stories of the time. Police forces, riven by corruption and brutality, are named. If the names of precise streets and locations in Leeds and Preston are changed, they feel all too real. (Did or does The Gaiety exist?) This deliberate blurring of fact and fiction is probably what excites me about David Peace’s work the most. I’m not a big reader of fiction, but this is a halfway house and it’s a place I like to dwell.
His prose style – interior monologue, mundane conversation, dreams, repetition, swearing, mantra, gory detail, snatches of songs and other sources, sometimes a pretentious switch in typeface – is utterly compelling to me, but may well be tiresome to others. Perhaps he’s an acquired taste, although it didn’t take me long.
Last week, I put the thrilling and hypnotic GB84 on ice, in order to finish 1974, which I’d already started, stirred on by the imminence of C4’s Red Riding Trilogy (three films, starting tonight, adapted by Tony Grisoni from 1974, 1980 and 1983 – he did 1977 but they scrapped it because they couldn’t afford to make the Quartet, which is insane, by the way, but money seems no longer to be falling out of TV’s ears). I finished 1974 two days ago, and finally found a copy of 1980, in the miraculous Foyle’s on London’s Charing Cross Road, yesterday, which I’m now reading while the partially-read 1977 sits it out.
I am actually too excited about the Trilogy. I can’t remember when I was this animated about a TV drama. Beware, though, I will become one of those twats who compares the film to the book.
I’ll leave you with this choice David Peace quote, from 1977 (if you don’t like, you won’t like him):
I woke in a rapist sweat from dreams I prayed were not my own.