"and the waves, of course"

(David Peace, Sarah Moss)

Folks,

Here’s what I’ve been reading this last couple of weeks…


Tokyo Redux - David Peace

Where, when and why I bought it:

I bought this from Waterstones, in hardback, this July. It's even signed by David Peace himself (albeit on a slightly unimpressive sticker). It was actually a birthday present, with a National Book Token, which I found absurdly hard to spend - it seems like they’re now accepted almost nowhere online.

Still, I shouldn’t complain. And Peace is one of the few authors whose books I'll actually buy in hardback - there is nobody who writes prose quite like him. I hesitated for just a moment, as Occupied City, the last book in the Tokyo trilogy, was almost literally unreadable, but fortunately I'd heard this conclusion was good.

What it's about:

Three men connected to the death of President Shimoyama, who was (really) found dead on the Tokyo train tracks in 1949 in circumstances that might have been murder or suicide. It was a crime that preoccupied Japan for years.

What it's really about:

It's about the past, and how the memory of trauma lingers. Specifically it's about the horrors of living in an occupied nation: how it strips away a sense of national identity, and lets all kinds of darkness fester (both in the occupier and the occupied).

What it's like to read:

Initially, it's unexpectedly straightforward. Peace is arguably the greatest chronicler of obsession who’s writing today, and that's reflected in his hypnotically repetitive prose. You may remember I reviewed Red or Dead a while back, the story of Liverpool's legendary manager Bill Shankly, a novel’s whose intense repetition evoked Shankly's habitual approach to life.

That distinctive repetitive Peace writing style isn’t in evidence right away here, which is disorientating. Red or Dead achieved an incredible power through that technique, showing how a man's everyday choices ultimately add up to greatness or defeat, and showing the cumulative power of small things. Elsewhere in his fiction, it serves a different purpose - to show madness, or obsession, or even an individual’s personal rhetoric, as in GB84:

The President had not come to ask for help. He did not want help. He did not need help. The President had not come to beg. He did not want charity. He did not need charity. The President had come only to hold them to their word. To have them keep their promises. Honour their pledges. The president had come only to collect. To collect what was his.

In its early sections, Tokyo Redux seems to pull back from Peace's typical writing style - it feels like a down-the-line noir story, at times on the edge of cliche. But that initial stability is only an illusion - as his characters get drawn into the Shimoyama case, and spiral downwards, the prose does the same. The second section culminates in an extraordinary, hallucinatory sequence that's almost unputdownable - even if it's not always wholly comprehensible.

Tokyo Redux is a dark novel, although it's less dark than Peace's stomach-churning Red Riding novels. It's a thoughtful novel, too, one that demands to be read not simply as a detective story but as a reflection on a theme.

Ultimately I've come to love it just as much as Peace's others, and for that reason I'd suggest it might be a good gateway into his writing. It calls itself part of the Tokyo trilogy, but it works as a standalone novel, and I’d even argue it’s the most accessible of all three books (Tokyo Year Zero, Tokyo Occupied City and Tokyo Redux).

It's a class act. Recommended.


Summerwater - Sarah Moss

Where, when and why I bought it:

On an Audible deal - it cost me £3. Ordinarily I'm reluctant to buy audiobooks on impulse as I mostly don't have time to listen to them, but Sarah Moss’s previous novel Ghost Wall was wonderful and if anything, the reviews for Summerwater have been even better. It was also pretty short by audiobook standards, at just 4hrs long.

What it's about:

The simmering tensions between a bunch of holidaymakers staying in some Scottish lodges in a very rainy summer.

What it's really about:

Brexit, and specifically how fear of outsiders can bleed into every interaction; climate change, and how it breeds a kind of underlying dread; more generally, British repression, and its many dangers.

What it's like to read:

Addictive. It shouldn't be - each of the stories is concerned with pretty small things, like the teenager who goes out in a kayak and nearly drowns, or the old man trying to deal with his wife's fragility - but there's a consistent undercurrent of tension, and a question over how their stories will ultimately coalesce.

The ending might be a little subtle for some people's tastes, as Moss shies away from showing the aftermath of the eventual catastrophe. For my part, it felt effectively poised, absolutely appropriate on a thematic level, and with just enough information for the reader to imagine what happened next.

That was my feeling about Ghost Wall too, which some people disliked for being insufficiently specific with its folk horror. It's a matter of taste, but Moss is so good at sketching characters that they all seem to have lives beyond her fiction - which is what makes her novels so powerful, and so lingering.

Special mention to Morvern Christie, too, whose narration absolutely made the book. It's one novel I'd specifically suggest seeking out on audiobook, as it's a tremendous experience.


Until next time,

Tom

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