Tuesday, 31 July 2007

David Peace - Tokyo Year Zero (Review)

Tokyo, August 1946.

It’s always hot in this city. I take out my handkerchief. I wipe my face. I wipe my neck.

In a Japan destroyed by war, Detective Inspector Minami from Metropolitan HQ is on the hunt for a serial killer.

I itch and I scratch. Gari-gari.

But in post-war Tokyo, no one is who they say they are.

I bow and I apologise.

Based on a true story, David Peace tries to recreate through a cinematic style the sounds and smells and heat of a war-torn, defeated nation.

Ton-ton. Ton-ton. Ton-ton. Ton-ton. Ton-ton. Ton-ton . . .

The sound of hammering and hammering.

I’m afraid for me all this hammering home, all these descriptive asides and repetitions, become a bit too much. The book is just too stylised for my Western tastes, I guess, and for me that tended to get in the way of the story. I found myself skipping too many paragraphs to get back to the meat of the story.

I bow and I apologise again.

Peace’s great achievement, though, is in conveying a real sense of time and place. The heat and the squalor and the hunger are almost tangible.

I itch and I scratch. Gari-gari.

But in the end, I found it all rather overwhelming. And the revelation at the end was, to me, a little predictable.

I bow and I apologise again.

This is an interesting book, certainly original, but I couldn’t decide whether it was intended as a clever literary novel or a pretentious crime novel. Either way, for me, Peace hasn’t quite pulled it off.

7 comments:

Mary Witzl said...

What a coincidence, Paul: I went to our local bookstore today and browsed -- and I very nearly bought this very book! What I read was well-written and interesting, but I opted for the latest C. J. Sansom instead, which was included in the 3 for 2 offer...

Because I write about Japan myself, I look out for other books about Japan, and no one could be a worse stickler for accuracy. If a name is wrong, or the writer has hammed up some Japanese custom and made it impossibly quaint, or if the history seems faulty or glossed over, I drop the book right away. I have to say that his looked good from what I read. Hope I get to read this eventually...

Kanani said...

Oh... it's like a tic!

Paul said...

Mary - I'm sure you wouldn't be disappointed in the veracity of this book - David Peace is as much a stickler for accuracy as you are! An indication of the extent of his research (quite apart from the fact he has lived in Tokyo for the past 13 years) is the impressively eclectic list of acknowledgements and sources that run to five pages at the back of the book. It's a shame you didn't buy it, because I'd be interested in your views. I found his stylistic repetition irritating, but of course that's just one reader's view, and I think I'm in the minority on that point.

Paul said...

Kanani - having said all that (above), yes it IS like a tic!

Mary Witzl said...

Wow, thirteen years. I give him some credit, and no wonder he got all of his onomatopoeic expressions (ton-ton, gari-gari) down pat.

I remember talking to Japanese friends who were in their teens during the reconstruction period just after the war, and they used both of those expressions: gari-gari and ton-ton. The mosquitoes were fierce, for one thing, and a lot of people had lice, due to the terrible hygiene that existed what with so many people being forced to live rough. And a lot of hammering went on, obviously, so plenty of ton-ton-ton. I appreciate him writing about this period, as a lot of people even of my parents' generation have little idea of what happened during the fire bombing of Tokyo. An American woman who should have known better once said to me 'Tokyo wasn't bombed, was it? I thought it was Hiroshima and Nagasaki.' Gee, where do you begin?

Now I want to read the book!

Kanani said...

Well, there are always risk takers out there when it comes to prose. But there is a limit when what they're doing is an annoyance.

A writer I'm very fond of because he has utter flashes of brilliance wrote the absolute worst piece of fiction a few years back. He started to play.with.sentences. And. soon. there were. entire paragraphs filled. with them.

And believe me, it didn't help the storyline at all, it made the characters disappear because all you could think of were those. periods.

Anyway, I was looking at Tin House lit journal today. They want stories from women writing about the fantastical.

Hmm.... I have no idea what this is.... Mexican surrealism, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I work for Faber and Faber (we publish David Peace titles including Tokyo Year Zero and The Damned United. Would you like to receive a free copy of The Damned United Audio book, read by John Simm?
Please feel free to contact me at tradefeedback@faber.co.uk

Many thanks!