Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A Wee Review - 1974 by David Peace

1974 is the first of David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet. The quartet is currently in production and will soon be packaged as three feature length films. The first will premiere in Spring 2009 at the Berlin Film Festival, and soon after it’ll see its UK premiere on Channel 4. Since Adrian McKinty’s enthusiastic recommendation, I’ve been interested in getting stuck into this series. After reading the first, I’ve been traumatised, but not disappointed.

Edward Dunford is the recently appointed crime correspondent for the Evening Post in Yorkshire. He’s inappropriately excited that a young girl’s disappearance, weeks before Christmas 1974, might point to a pattern spanning three years and two other instances of missing children. His excitement is fuelled by his rivalry with Jack f**king Whitehead (Crime Correspondent of the Year) and the desire to work on a story that’ll lift his reputation from being that guy who did a great story on The Ratcatcher. And with the recent death of his father weighing on his mind, he hardly has much room for sympathy for the missing girl. That is, until he receives the autopsy report and crime scene photos of the young girl’s body. The horrific nature of the murder brings Dunford a dark fascination in the case that soon blossoms into dangerous obsession.

This book is nihilistic, emotionally wretched and stomach churning. That hardly comes across as praise, but it takes some seriously powerful writing to depress a happy young pup like myself. Peace is a dark prince doling out ill-ease and melancholy. 1974 contains scenes that’ll probably stick with me for the rest of my life. The protagonist, Edward Dunford, goes on one of the bleakest and most pain-filled character journey’s I’ve ever encountered. At times I wasn’t sure I even wanted to make it through the whole book. So, will I read the second part of the quartet? You betcha.

You see, 1974 may be a depressing aul git of a novel, but the quality of writing is very impressive. Peace employs a cool style throughout; lots of short, snappy sentences, realistic dialogue and unashamed use of the F-word on every page. The characters are utter bastards for the most part, but they act like real people. Is this Yorkshire Noir? Yeah, I think so. Unless there’s a term that describes something that’s darker than black.

1974 is not for the faint-hearted and may even cause mood swings amongst the emotionally stable. In fact, the book should probably come with a mental health warning. I recommend you read it, but prepare yourself for a trip to many personal hells before delving in. Maybe add to that four-nights-a-week drink habit you’ve been worrying about, take up smoking dope, or kill your goldfish. Do something. And remember; it’s just a story. A very good story.


adrian mckinty said...

He's pretty good isn't he? I started reading 1974 on a plane, before I knew what was happening I was on page 250 and we were landing.

But you know, in 1974 you could still catch fresh Monty Pythons on the telly, beer was 30p a pint, Zep, the Stones, the Floyd and Deep Purple were at their peak and Bill Shankly was still manager of Liverpool so it cant have been that bad could it?

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - He sure is. I'm really looking forward to 1977. The films should be good too.

I know what you mean RE 1974 though. My granda's shebeen was still operating then. I wish I could go back in time with a few quid and go on a bender there. 'Two wall-climbers in a big glass please, JB.'

A good year for tonic wine, you know?


Michael Stone said...

After seeing recommendations for the Red Riding Quartet in the comments here, I went out and bought Peace’s latest novel, Tokyo Year Zero. What a premise. A crime novel set in Tokyo, 1946. Irresistible. I wish I had resisted it, though. I read TYZ for about two hours before my head caved in.

I'm a stubborn devil and tend to finish every book I start, regardless of whether I like it or not. TYZ, however went down to the charity shop after a prologue and two chapters. The writing/structure is inexplicable. It's like watching a foreign film with subtitles on one screen while a different film runs on another, and there's someone sitting next to you clapping his hands and reading bits of poetry. You get a line of narration or dialogue, then an italcised line or two

I recall one of them being:
Ton-ton, ton-ton, ton-ton
Another was:
She's here

Over and over. Every two or three lines in chapter one. Ton-ton, ton-ton, ton-ton. AAARRGGGH!! In case you're wondering, the repeating lines in italics were either fragments of a dream the main character had had, the sound of hammers rebuilding Tokyo (I think the constant noise was meant to annoy the reader as much as it annoys the main character), or a repeating political broadcast playing over loudspeakers. This, I think, is taking that scrap of writerly wisdom, “Show, don't tell” to the extreme.

Very occasionally the italics referred to some internal dialogue.

When I’m reading I prefer to become immersed and switch off the editorial part of the brain -- the writer part that critiques everything. I couldn't with this because the writer AND the reader in me was screaming "WHY THE **** IS DAVID PEACE DOING THIS?"

I tried skipping the repeating lines but that's no way to read a book. I looked ahead to see if things got any better (they do, marginally), but I still threw the book at the wall – literally, I was that pissed off.

My worst reading experience in a long time.

And there ends my recommendation.

Gerard Brennan said...

Mike - I'm almost curious to read the Tokyo book now and see how it compares to 1974, but I know we've quite similar taste. Conidering how much I have to read right now, I'll maybe put it on the long finger. And get it from the library when I do get around to it.

I did think 1974 was a great book, but I'm glad you posted the critique of TYZ. I'm baffled that it should be so bad as to deserve being thrown at a wall, but thank you for the warning. Maybe he put style over substance in TYZ. They do say every writer has a bad book in them.



Michael Stone said...

Gerard, I'd be happy for someone to tell me TYZ is great and, moreover, explain why it's great.

I hate dissing a book like this, but it's a mystery how TYZ got published, and in hardback too. Is it on the back of the Red Riding Quartet's success or is it just me, blinded the avant garde, diamond brilliance of Peace's writing?

It'll be interesting to see if the rest of the trilogy is released in hardback.

Wish I'd tried The Damned United instead now. (c:

Gerard Brennan said...

Mike - Hopefully Colman will come along with something to say. That guy's read everything. I'll be surprised if he hasn't got an opinion on this one.

Anybody else out there got any thoughts?


Conduit said...

These Red Riding Quartet books keep popping up on various blogs, which tells me they're worth checking out. But I have stopped buying books until the TBR mountain no longer has snow at the top.

Gerard Brennan said...

Stuart - I'm in the same boat. So many cool books, so little time.


adrian mckinty said...


I had been looking forward to TYZ. The premise alone...

The last book I threw across the room was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - it sickened me that Carson McCullers was that good WHEN SHE WAS 18!

Anonymous said...

The rest of the red riding quartet continue in the same vein, more darkness, and emotionally draining. Do not give up, a rewarding experince. Read the others soon and start the prozac now!
I'm disapointed to hear about TYZ. I was looking forward to it and just purchased it recently. Peace does use some similar techniques in his other books with italics and repeated sentences but no sounds of hammers rebuilding Tokyo!!


Michael Stone said...

Adrian - professional jealousy will get you everywhere. (c:

Allen - I hope you enjoy TYZ, and that you'll let me know if you do. I thought I was getting the measure of it when reading the long prologue and chapter one, but chapter two slammed the lid on the coffin and nailed it for me.

And although it doesn't really need saying, I'll say it anyway, my disregard is for the book, not the author. I'm still curious about his other work, particularly Damned United.

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - Near choked on my coffee when you mentioned throwing THIALH at the wall, but when I read on to find it was inspired by envy, it suddenly made sense. Great book that. Only read it to impress a literary-minded girl I was going with, but was glad I did. For once.

Allen - Good call on the prozac. If it's more of the same, preparation is needed!

Mike - I've been hearing good things about The Damned United too. Possibly from Colman. Where is that scallywag, anyway? And I think DU might be getting the movie treament as well.


krimileser said...


I just read Tokyo Year Zero and must say I liked it a lot. It is more daring and comes across more clearer (i.e. strait forward) than the Red Riding Quartet.

Would you have read it to the end (there are some hints along the way) you would perhaps understand why he is using this multi-modal (working with language and the appearance of the text) approach.

Let's say reading this readers see the future of crime fiction/literature and they don't (see it). There will be not many authors who can write a book where story, style, language and graphic appearance are so complex and are so intertwined without tumbling.

Michael Stone said...

Someone enjoyed TYZ! It just goes to show. There's room for all kinds of books and that's got to be good, right?

I guess my fundamental quibble is I wanted to become immersed, to engage with the characters. I couldn't because of the of what I perceived as the author's slavish devotion to evoking a particular style -- and one I didn't like.

I guess I'm just a conventionalist at heart.

adrian mckinty said...

Michael & Mr Thriller-Reader

Come on, you guys cant just "agree to disagree" where's the fun in that?

We want a fight, fight, fight...

Anonymous said...

We want a fight, fight, fight...

Nah,Crime readers/writers are a mellow bunch.

All of Peace's books have been translated here,generally very quickly,and he seems to be regarded quite highly.
I remember reading a review of the Quartet by an Italian crime author who said something like "after you've read these,you'll throw 99% of the books in your Library in the rubbish bin".
Since I didn't want to run the risk,I passed.
But yeah,sooner or later I'll have to try him.

Sam said...

just finished 1974 and was looking for internet critiques, came across this; but on peace - michael, take one look at gb84 (ive not seen tyz). that is really hard to take in (there's two narratives on alternate pages!!), especially if you've not a clue who the central characters are (i wasn't alive during the miners' strikes, let alone conscious). i'm not sure how the damned utd fares if you're in the same position - 1974 was a lot more comprehendable, possibly because it's earlier. i'd say it was all really rewarding though, eventually. love him... ok 1977 now

Gerard Brennan said...

Hi Sam

Thanks for the comment, but because the post is a couple of months old the I fear you'll not get a very satisfying response from the commenters above. However, I still intend to read and review 1977 soon. If you've read it too, be sure to drop by with your thoughts again.



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