1974 - David Peace

David Peace's 1974, the first book from the Red Riding Quartet, is a ripping ( pardon the adjectives connotations please ) ride through the life and fall of Edward Dunsford -a hard done by, hate fuelled North of England Crime Correspondent for the Evening Post. Its an icy, bleak, soft hued world of net curtains, ghoulish hung over policemen and nervous mothers eyes darting anxiously towards the glare of the cameras. A dismal amoral universe of  serial deception, dominance and destruction. The catalyst for almost all actions being hate or grief, policemen are driven by anger and journalists are driven by competitive jealousies.  The spine of the fictions geocorps is without a doubt the Styxeous M1 motorway that Dunsford speeds along between the cold, drab, brown fields and barren moorland of Leeds and Wakefield, the majority of the time he is either hungover and anxious or drunk, angry and hateful - foul weather being the other constant in this world. Alcohol plays a large, albeit co-incidental role in the novels procedings, the british 70's are wonderfully depicted in all there dehydrated drabbiness. There is a lot of drinking, alot of smoking, alot of phone boxes, a lot of driving and an awful lot of phallonarcisism. A chauvinistic, male dominated world cloaks a story that is essentially a tragi-comic adventure. Dunsfords propulsion into the world of serial murderers, bent policemen and grief stricken families is mainly fuelled by his own grief for his father, Peace doesn't exactly hint at this but rather dumps literary road signs around the northern paths of the novels protagonist. He is constantly looking at his "fathers watch" whilst chasing various leads and even forgets his own fathers funeral occured the previous week when in conversation with his boss, denial driven excusrions to boardered up terraced houses leads him into being emersed in a sick world of power struggles, the journalist, the leech, the voyeur slowly becomes apart of the bitter world - his coagulation, consumption by the evil in the world is a tragically harsh consequence of avoiding his own guilt. The paradigm beneath the fictions themes is essentially a morbidly nihilistic perspective, harboured without feeling and a lot of indifference. Striking or rather emotionally stunning nihilism is a perhaps an achievement by Peace, for all the literature i've had the pleasure of reading so far i've found that a subjective nihilism is much more common that an objective, universally world engulfing nihilism. For Peace, the authorities, the geographies, the people, the society and pretty much every facet of his northern, rain soaked world are filled with despair, hate and cold nihilism......

Peace has received a lot of praise recently, his work is well conceived and executed with decisiveness if not  subtlety or restraint, however despite the wonderfully vivid conjuring of North England circa 1974 ( perhaps the best I have read ) the level of depth feels shallow in comparison with other contemporary writers thematic areas of interest/exploration. Peace is accomplished at providing a few elements of genius, but rather dismally these insightful aspects are spent within the first quarter of the book. The engulfing realm provided in 1974 is wide open from page 1 and does not dilate any wider upon further reading, rather, it is the singular ( perhaps too flat, or standard ) literary mechanisms inside the world that change and progress but in an essentially predictable trajectory. In many modern novels this lack of depth and thematic staleness would render an essentially engrossing and vivid world merely average, however Peace has another talent that carries the book forward into above average status - pace and it's gambolling momentum. The rate of Dunsfords descent is pure acceleration, like a rock falling awkwardly out of view into a tragedian chasm, bouncing along the cliff face apparently accelerating the descent. This momentum carries the book through ( as previously mentioned ) an awesome realization of British history, perhaps one of the best recent fictional realizations, whilst the pace and tone maintain a relentless snowballing in bleakness, misery, hate and fear.

However the morality of Dunsford, remains ambiguous. His treatment of women, his mother and his collegues is appalling and even though the majority of the time he is being pushed or pulled by hate or evil, when juxtaposed with the few opportunities he's given to make the right, or at least the better, choice's he invariably opts for a negative and destructive action. On occasion this is surprising or even shocking and raises large questions about the nature of the greater forces at play within Peace's 1974 universe. If Dunsford is so helpless why does he actively leave a rather shameful path of destruction in his wake? At times he is undoubtedly pushed into the evil and sick worlds, self preservation leads him there, however there is also an innate curiousity about Dunsford - or rather an unhealthy obbsession. Under pressure, driven into situations he's unaccustomed to, dealing with gruesome murders and evil, manipulative figures of authority Dunsford can be forgiven for making a few questionable decisions, for behaving rashly or impulsively, but slowly Dunsford continues to make amoral moves in the world even whilst cucooned away from the evil that tends to engulf him for the majority of the book. A few questions are formed from Peace's bleakly nihilistic northern tragedy. Are the demons and evil of the world infecting Dunsford? Or has it eaten away his soul, slowly eroding the good? Or was he always inclined to be drawn into the grotesque and macabre - and most interestingly, isn't everyone, at some level, drawn to evil and the macabre? The media coverage of murders, leeching off a mothers grief, the car crash voyeurism. Even metathematically, the book we are reading - why are we drawn into this world? Dunsford could be an avatar for ourselves, just an emotional/cultural symphorophilian vehicle for the ugly, destructive curiousity that dwells somewhere in everyone. 

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