Quick Reviews: Kate Tempest, David Peace

tempestKate Tempest: The Bricks that Built the Houses

Becky, Harry, and Leon are leaving London in a fourth-hand Ford with a suitcase full of stolen money, in a mess of tangled loyalties and impulses. But can they truly leave the city that’s in their bones?

That’s the blurb. And the story takes us back to nearly a year before this significant moment, to see what led them to desperate measures. I have a hard time making up my mind about this book. There were aspects of it I really liked: the nuanced observation of life in South London, the ability to squeeze so much in a single sentence or description, the ear for dialogue. Plenty of raw emotion too, helping everyone to understand the younger generation better. Yet overall, the structure and the interplay between characters did not quite hold together for me. Too many coincidences, although I could relate with the characters’ struggle to find jobs and meaning in an urban life full of compromises and rejection.

However, Kate Tempest is a very talented and innovative poet and performer, and also a playwright, so I will always read anything she has to offer. She even has rapped with a band and brought out an album. Here is one song which seems to fit well with the novel: ‘The Beigeness’.

tokyozeroDavid Peace: Tokyo Year Zero

David Peace is another performance poet. This became clear to me when I saw him reading from his books in Lyon. He has a sensitive ear, so highly tuned to oral storytelling and any kind of sound effect. So many will find the excessive use of onomatopoeia exasperating (even I did at times, no matter how kindly disposed I am towards the author), but I can discern a purpose to all this. It’s the soundtrack of a  postwar Japan which has hit rock-bottom, has lost its soul, is being humiliated and punished (but also rebuilt). This is most certainly not going to appeal to everyone. The almost unbearably graphic portrayal of the Victors and Losers, the city teeming in bad smells, lice, prostitution, hammering. Peace describes the hunger and despair, the daily suicides and train delays, the overcrowding, with all the juxtapositions and repetitions of a rapper.

A very brief summary of the plot: A serial killer seems to be preying on vulnerable young women in 1946 Tokyo but the police are too frightened for their own jobs, too shaken by the trauma of war and the daily crime and horrors they encounter. The unreliable, frenzied, unlikable main character Detective Minami seems to be the only one stubbornly pursuing leads.

As usual in a David Peace novel, there is little comfort or fluffiness or redemption to be expected. An admirable experiment, but one that will divide readers like Marmite.

7 thoughts on “Quick Reviews: Kate Tempest, David Peace”

  1. I just love it when creative artists (such as poets) try their hand at novels and stories, too, Marina Sofia. The results can be fantastic. And even if the story isn’t perfect, there’s just something to it, isn’t there? Thanks for sharing these.

  2. I still need to read a couple of the novels in the Peace’s Red Riding series. He is a great stylist, but I can only stomach his work in measured doses if you know what I mean. Tokyo Year Zero sounds as if it possesses several of his trademark tropes…

  3. I don’t remember if I tried Tokyo Year Zero in French translation or in English, but I couldn’t get past the 50 pages. The difficulty of the language was compounded by the difficulty of the scenes it described. Just too much for me. I admire your tackling it and I understand the small dosage.

    1. His work is very challenging, subject matter and style both. I’m not surprised it takes him a long time to write each book – it takes me a long time to recover after each one.

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