David Peace - Occupied City (4 stars)

Fictionalised history

The theme of defeat has been central to the work of David Peace but has never been more potent in this, the second of his Tokyo trilogy. The Damned United featured loss at the heart of Brian Clough’s 44 days in charge of Leeds United while GB84 probed the disintegration of Britain’s working class at the hands of a wilfully destructive Tory government. In the background to Occupied City, the stench of Japan’s wartime defeat comes right off the pages while he fills up the foreground with the hellish tale of a mass poisoning in the capital city’s Teikoku Bank in 1948. An artist called Sadamichi Hirasawa was subsequently sentenced to hang, but his fate was never fully sealed and he died in prison in 1987, doubts lingering to this day that a miscarriage of justice had taken place.

Such conspiratorial talk may have dragged Peace towards this crime and he boosts the sense of paranoia by throwing in other shadowy contexts: the city’s occupation by the victorious Americans, the biological experiments conducted upon Japan’s POWs, and some shady police work police (an echo to his Red Riding Quartet and its corrupt Yorkshire coppers). Peace couches this already complex story in an increasingly dense Rashomon-like narrative in which a dozen characters voice their own version of events. At times the book is frustratingly impenetrable, but is also never anything other than blazingly inventive. The contemporary literary world should be glad to have Peace in our time.


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