David Peace's first novel, Nineteen Seventy Four (1999), was set in West Yorkshire in the year of its title, and presented that time and place in apocalyptic terms. 'These are violent bloody times, son,' a senior policeman tells the narrator, a gauche young journalist investigating the disappearance of a series of girls. As the narrator speeds round Leeds's grey ring of motorways, in ceaseless midwinter rain and darkness, he comes across burning gypsy caravans, corrupt property developers, paedophiles, and a police force that beats and kidnaps and burgles with the impunity of a private army. The violence and complete absence of reassuring characters recall Get Carter and O Lucky Man!, those bleak films from the early 1970s portraying a Britain barely bothering to conceal its Darwinian side. Yet Peace's vision has a doominess all of its own. Everything and everyone is connected. Paranoia tinges the tiniest occurrences. Even the cups of tea the narrator is offered in the neat front rooms of his interviewees are given a sense of menace: 'Out in the kitchen the kettle began to scream and then abruptly went dead.' There are passages of biblical foreboding involving rats, dead dogs and swans with their wings torn off, and strange ambitious images: the sky near Leeds is like 'the fat belly of a whale . . . the colour of its grey flesh, stark black trees its mighty bones'.
LRB 23 September 2004 | PDF Download