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MisterHobgoblin

Tokyo Year Zero

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Tokyo Year Zero was a disappointment.

 

I have admired David Peace for some time. He has a very distinctive style, using repetition, mantra and leitmotiv to generate a claustrophobic and compelling interior monologue. He has focused in the past on Yorkshire icons of the 1970s and 1980s - the Yorkshire Ripper investigations, the Miners’ Strike, and Brian Clough.

 

Tokyo Year Zero sees a major change of scene - Japan in 1946. Tokyo lies in ruins and a serial killer stalks the streets. In the context of a nation reeling from the utter annihilation of two entire cities, with bodies piled up in mounds, the concept of investigating murder is rather surreal. And as ever, Peace focuses on the investigators and their office politics, sleaze and decay rather than on unveiling the identity of the killer. In Tokyo Year Zero, the killer is identified early, and the challenge for the investigation is to find evidence to link him to various victims.

 

In theory, this should work well. There is enough to make this novel, in theory at least, differ from his previous works. In particular, the absence of personal greed; the sense of defeated honour; the obedience - should all work into giving Tokyo Year Zero something new to say. Yet it doesn’t quite work.

 

Firstly, the repetition and mantra are done to death - to the point that they become really irksome and boring. Peace has an interesting trick of making blocks of text pare down into triangular shapes - a bit like the blade of a guillotine. But this trick, too, is done to death. The plot itself is confusing, particularly at the end, which seems to use confusion as a metaphor for insanity. But it is hardly satisfying for a longish novel to splinter in this way at the end. One of the attractions of [most of] Peace’s previous novels was that the end was known from the outset (the Yorkshire Riper was caught; the miners lost; Brian Clough got sacked), and the beauty was in working slowly, inevitably towards that conclusion. That is not the case here, so the confusing end cannot even fall back on a wider public knowledge of events. And the confusing plot doesn’t help itself with a cast of many, many people - all with Japanese names that are unfamiliar to an anglophone ear - and which therefore tend to blur into one.

 

Tokyo Year Zero feels too formulaic - as though Peace has heard praise for his technical brilliance and decided to play to this perceived strength - when in fact his real strength was injecting his work with the lifeblood and soul of his own experience. This is the first of a trilogy of Japanese novels - I hope the others see David Peace back to his brilliant best.

 

***00

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