RARA-AVIS: New books and other things...

From: Steve Novak (Cinefrog@comcast.net)
Date: 03 Aug 2009

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    Simply wondering if some of you in UK have already read the new David Peace book reviewed today in Times UK...As mentioned once here, I discovered him because of somebody at Rara and I¹m mesmerized and I have since discovered that he¹s very highly though of in France...From the review here it sounds very noir indeed...since many of us seem to be wondering what that moniker means nowadays...and it also seems to be leaning towards some of Auster¹s tropes...

    Also...in one article in a magazine listing ³The 50 Crime Stories Writers that count today...² there is mention of names that I have either missed or not seen in our discussions: Jo Nesbro (Norway), Chuck Palahniuk (US), Deon Meyer (SA)...

    Can any of you give larger info about these authors...impressions, facts...etc....

    Many merci¹s in advance...

    Montois de Détroit

    From The Times August 1, 2009 Occupied City by David Peace The Times review by Tim Teeman: Repetitive, insistent, poetic, this muscular narrative wraps the reader in a gritty postwar Tokyo

    Last night the comedian Kevin Bishop scored a direct hit on his new Channel 4 show with a pastiche of a trailer of a forthcoming drama. The drama was grimy, the story made little sense, it was set in the North, it rained, characters fell to the ground wailing ³Gritty Bafta².

    One inspiration, surely, was Red Riding, the acclaimed Channel 4 drama adapted from three (out of four) David Peace novels, about dark deeds in and around West Yorkshire police in the 1970s and 1980s. What a head-scratching weirdo it was, evoking more than it revealed, yet spellbinding for all that:
    ³gritty Bafta² material to the max (even if it wasn¹t actually nominated).

    Those seeking to be further mystified, but transfixed, by Peace¹s muscular narrative powers will not be disappointed by Occupied City, the second of his Tokyo trilogy about the US occupation of Japan. At the heart of this novel is the true story of the fatal poisoning of a group of employees at the Teikoku Bank in Tokyo in 1948 and the search for the killer, who also robbed the bank. There are broader themes, too: the all-pervading sense of disintegration of postwar Tokyo, and the abuse and development of biological weapons.

    The story is told in many voices; and those voices, whether characters or newspaper reports, are insistent, and, like many a Peace-ian narrator, repetitive. Lines are written as poetry. Tokyo is an ³Occupied City², but it is also a ³Perplexed City², ³Posthumous City ... this city that is no city, into the grey place, this place that is no place²: in Peace¹s work artifice, reportage and fiction collide. The plot is not linear. The repetition, the rhythm, the flow and tone of the novel, are more like an incantation.

    RELATED LINKS Occupied City by David Peace This may prove puzzling, even frustrating, but the raw beauty of Peace¹s language, the clotted trajectory of the story, envelops you. When he writes of one of the bank tellers who survives ‹ and who is later pursued by a journalist, first professionally, then personally ‹ you feel every desperate movement of her crawl to freedom from where her colleagues were brutally murdered. Peace writes brilliantly of shattered roads, shattered lives, poison entering one¹s body, a fragmenting self, fragmenting society. Every scar and scarred surface, every broken body and broken mind is brutally realised.

    One of the most effective chapters is a series of alternating letters from an American officer investigating Japan¹s biological weapons development, to his wife and to his commanders. The letters begin in 1945, with the war just ended: he is looking forward to coming home. But his mission becomes complicated and compromised; his letters home become less sunny and more wry, then less wry and simply desperate. By the end of the chapter, three years later, he is physically and psychologically broken.

    Peace is an astonishing storyteller, if you can get beyond ‹ or take pleasure from ‹ the crazy repetition, the diversions from the plot and the chapters of italics and capital letters. One spectacularly odd interlude near the end is a frenzied rant ascribed to ³The Thirty-Six Wounds of a Second Detective² which reads typographically as a deranged chant: ³I AM THE SPECTATOR, THEY ARE THE SPECTACLE Ten bodies, ten corpses, the sound of whispering, the sound of weeping THE CRIME, THE SPECTACLE . . .²

    But we had been warned. A quote from Artaud¹s The Theatre and the Plague opens the novel (³The obedient and virtuous son kills his father . . .The warrior hero sets fire to the city he once risked his life to save²) and foreshadows the kind of dystopia that Peace¹s novel evokes, where all order and reasonable conduct has been vaporised.

    War and its discontents have perverted everything and everybody in Occupied City: the bank poisonings are the most horrendous manifestation of that. Tokyo¹s air is ³haunted², the city is a ³coffin², a wilderness, a site of plague, a wound ‹ and much more besides. This novel is like a roiling charnel house. You feel its grit, bitterness and lack of hope, with an awful tangibility.

    When the killer, or supposed killer, is revealed, his story links the Teikoku Bank murders and the wider calumny of Japan¹s biological weapons programme. But his confession is questionable; and the reader leaves this chapter of Japan¹s history with, possibly, the wrong man convicted and the truth about chemical warfare muddied and lost in time. But, throughout, Peace has emphasised that this is an act of storytelling more than truth-telling, ³the writer² playing fast and loose in Tokyo¹s most resonant manifestation: ³the fictional city². This is a savagely beautiful, richly startling novel, just begging to be made into a ³gritty Bafta².

    Occupied City by David Peace (Faber and Faber, £12.99; Buy this book; 275pp)

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