If I wasn’t a massive Liverpool fan I would have stopped reading Red or Dead a good while ago. Indeed it is because I know that the book ends with a particularly rosy period for the club that I am willing to skim through page after page in which David Peace writes short sentence after short sentence describing how Bill Shankly lays the breakfast table. “Bill put the marmalade on the table. Bill went to the cupboard and took out the milk jug and put it on the table. Bull went to the fridge took out the milk and poured it into the jug.” Honestly, a whole page of this stuff, every 20 pages or so. It is balanced with the repetition of training and the repetition of matches. Each season is prefaced with the same description of the first training event. Driving out to Melwood. Running. Ball control. Stylistically interesting; ultimately tedious.
I was a huge fan of The Damned United in the way it captured both the claustrophobic intensity of English football and the individuals who had the genius and drive to take that on and turn the game into a greater experience. He captured Brian Clough at the nadir of his personal battle against the violence and the tribalism of the sport (represented by Leeds United) in favour of flair and individualism. (Amusingly Peace still enjoys laying the boot into Leeds again in Red or Dead). He portrayed the demons at work on the man in a very short but intense period. The book on Shankly sprawls out over his whole time at Liverpool and as such the attempts at using language to hammer home an effect, rather than y’know describing it, are ultimately unsuccessful. Shankly was a funny guy. Reading the words “Shankly laughing, Shankly joking” repeatedly is incredibly frustrating. Tell us what he said. Give us some ruddy examples.
Peace has proven himself elsewhere incredibly adept at using language as a battering ram. GB84 his book on the miners strike particularly contains moments of stomach-turning poetic force, as Peace enacts the violence of that period as much as he evokes it. However the way in which Peace pummels at way at one idea: Shankly prioritised training, training, hard work and training, plus a reductive mimicking of his speech patterns makes for a style that is easily parodied. (The repetition in the book. In the book. In a manner of Shankly’s speech. The repetition in the speech of Bill Shankly.) In playing out an effect instead of describing; in showing rather than telling, Peace does not place much trust in his readers, which is a shame given that his subjects greatness came from his faith in the average punter.