Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Review: RED OR DEAD by David Peace

‘Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.’ The first three words of David Peace’s RED OR DEAD (Faber & Faber) are key to unlocking not only the 700-plus pages of the novel, but also the philosophy upon which legendary manager Bill Shankly built the fortunes of England’s most successful football club, Liverpool FC.
  Shankly arrived at Liverpool in 1959, when the club was mired in Second Division mediocrity. As a player Shankly had captained Scotland and won the FA Cup with Preston North End, but his managerial career at Carlisle, Grimsby Town and Huddersfield Town was unremarkable prior to joining Liverpool. A life-long socialist, Shankly blended his philosophy in life with the financial resources of Liverpool Football Club and tapped into the dormant passion of the club’s supporters. By the time of his shock retirement in 1974, Liverpool FC had won three First Division Championships, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup. In place were the fundamentals that would yield, by the time of his death in 1981, a further four Championships, three European Cups, a League Cup, a UEFA Cup and a UEFA Super Cup.
  It’s those fundamentals that concern David Peace. The author made his reputation as the author of the ‘Red Riding Quartet’, crime novels set against the backdrop of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper which featured a distinctively clipped, telegraphic style. He arrived in the mainstream as the author of THE DAMNED UTD, an account of Brian Clough’s ill-fated 44-day tenure as the manager of Leeds United in 1974.
  Peace combines a unique style with a football story in RED OR DEAD, those repetitions (“Bill stared out at the line. In the garden, in the rain. The pouring rain. The empty, hanging line. Redundant in the rain.”) emphasising Bill Shankly’s approach to football, which focused on reducing the game to its most basic tenets and repeating them over and over again. Initially irritating, the repetitive style soon takes on a hypnotic quality, a lulling rhythm of everyday routines irregularly punctuated by triumph and failure.
  The style also incorporates Shankly’s attention to detail, and his famed use of psychology. To ensure a daily and intimate identification with the club, for example, the Liverpool players changed at Anfield and then took the bus to their training ground at Melwood, rather than togging out at the training ground, as most football clubs did.
  If the style is the book’s most notable feature on first encounter, however, it’s very much a novel on the theme of substance. Shankly, who believed himself a born socialist, and who worked down a coalmine before becoming a professional footballer, had a vision of how a football club should interact not only with its supporters (‘the People’, as Shankly called them), but also the club’s heartland. Despite all Liverpool’s success, Shankly never lost sight of the importance of the imperishable bond between the players on the pitch and ‘the People’ on the Kop.
  It’s a hagiography, of course, and David Peace makes little attempt to hide his admiration for Shankly and the way he went about his work. It’s a hagiography in the mediaeval style, however, in which a man is praised not for who he is, but according to the stark testimony of his deeds. Even more than Bill Shankly, however, it is the game of football itself, and its importance to its working-class constituency, which is the recipient of Peace’s love letter. Bill Shankly, for all his charisma and achievements, is simply the man who represents for Peace the incarnation of the game’s significance.
  There’s a caveat, of course: I’m a football fan, and I can’t say how a reader who isn’t a fan will cope with the minutiae of, say, training sessions that took place five decades ago. For this Liverpool fan the book is a joy, a powerful and moving tale of how, to paraphrase Bill Shankly, football isn’t simply a matter of life or death, but the stuff of life itself. – Declan Burke

David Peace will be appearing at Eason’s on O’Connell Street, Dublin, on Tuesday, August 20th, where he will be interviewed by Paul Howard. For all the details, clickety-click here

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