Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Gods Of Chaos On Their Side

I've just started David Peace's new novel, Tokyo Year Zero. He's been compared to James Ellroy, and you can see why: the brutally clipped, minimal sentences, and the subject matter, not just of bent cops, but more or less bent everything; the excavation of the sordid, corrupt and corrupting nature of the exercise of power. Ellroy himself has got in on the act, with a recommendation for the new book neatly placed in small black type above its title. One thing which differentiates him from Ellroy, I suppose, is that he's prepared to write about the powerless: each chapter of GB84 begins with a page of visceral stream of consciousness from one or other of a pair of miners slowly seeing their lives crushed by a nakedly political conflict they cannot help but take sides in, and The Damned Utd is the story of a man stripped of power, left only with its trappings. The style is also slightly different, less brutalist, less interested in the rhythms of speech and more of an internal monologue, of a mind worrying away, of harried repetition. The setting of Tokyo Year Zero displays though a kind of serendipity, a city destroyed, clinging to survival under an occupying army. The contemporary political connotations are presumably pretty clear, although the serendipity I was thinking of was with Mike Davis' Planet of Slums, and how Peace's novel makes real the hideousness of the kind of existence Davis shows more and more having to bear. Davis' book ends with an attempt to re-imagine the War on Terror as a war between the forces of the global order and the multitudes that order excludes and marginalises, unstable and with little to lose. Although Davis criticises Hardt and Negri's optimism about the revolutionary potential of those multitudes, he can't resist the thought that "[empire's] outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side". What Peace shows, I think, is that those gods are little help indeed; to be subject to power is precisely to be chaotic, to be left in its fickle hands. Cheerily, next on my pile is Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved, which Chris Brooke has been relentlessly pimping.


a very public sociologist said...

I've only read GB84 and I have to say I found it uncomfortable reading. Why? I can't really put my finger on it. I was torn between seeing it as a meditation on violence and a glorification of it.

Have you tried his other stuff? (Nineteen Seventy Seven, etc.)?

Rob Jubb said...

I've not read any of the Red Riding series, but The Damned Utd is good, even if you don't for whatever reason care about Brian Clough's brief reign at Leeds.