20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Way Of Life
Red Or Dead is a long, complex and powerful novel.
In his previous works, David Peace has addressed themes of the British class system, office management, corruption and politics. His novels have tended to focus on Yorkshire, albeit with two set in post-war Japan. In Red Or Dead, David Peace departs from his usual hunting ground to narrate the career of a...
Published 11 months ago by MisterHobgoblin
2.0 out of 5 stars Pull The Curtains
The Damned Utd was a fascinating and extraordinary book, even though I never did and still don't like Brian Clough. So it perhaps says something that I gave up on Red or Dead before Liverpool have won their first championship, despite the fact that I am a true devotee of the cult of Shankly. It was Bill Shankly who made me interested in football in the first place, it was...
Published 1 day ago by Tiny Bulcher
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Way Of Life,
Red Or Dead is a long, complex and powerful novel.
In his previous works, David Peace has addressed themes of the British class system, office management, corruption and politics. His novels have tended to focus on Yorkshire, albeit with two set in post-war Japan. In Red Or Dead, David Peace departs from his usual hunting ground to narrate the career of a Scotsman managing Liverpool Football Club.
Peace has a distinctive style. He focuses on repetition and lists. Indeed, the first three words of Red Or Dead are: "repetition, repetition, repetition". This is used to build narrative up into a kind of chant, a kind of mantra. In this novel, following 15 seasons of football matches (that's 630 matches in the league, plus cup games, every single one mentioned), the repetition illustrates the sheer monotony of football. Match after match after match, season after season after season. Every game the same as the one before, every season the same as the one before. Yet, still the game fascinates Bill Shankly, still it fascinates the fans. And despite knowing the outcomes in advance, it fascinates the reader. This hypnotic repetition of venues, attendances, team line ups, goal scorers, position in the league table. It draws the reader in whilst, at the same time, conveying the grinding chore of it all. And sometimes there will be a happy ending at the end of the season. But, as often as not, there is disappointment and the need to start all over again next year.
David Peace does not use "he" and "she". Characters are named, every time. Whether at Anfield Stadium or at his home on West Derby Road, we find Bill doing this and Bill doing that, obsessively, over and over again. The language is simple to the point of being monosyllabic. And with the repetition and obsessive setting out of detail, it feels almost Biblical. There is a sense that something momentous is happening. That those who see Liverpool Football Club are the chosen people, and those who meet the Messianic Bill are somehow blessed. It is obviously heavily stylized. There is no pretence that this is an accurate reflection of Bill Shankly, his speech or his mannerisms. Parts of it may be right, parts may be imagined - but ultimately it doesn't matter. It's the story that counts.
So to the story. Anyone of David Peace's vintage is likely to know the Liverpool FC of the 1980s - a team that believed it had a right to win everything and was seldom disappointed. They were hard to love - unless you were one of the young people wearing Liverpool shirts to school despite never having set foot on Merseyside. Their manager, Bob Paisley, was the most successful football manager in history, yet people spoke of this mythical figure of Bob Shankly, without whom none of this would have been possible. David Peace uncovers the myth, starting with an ambitious man taking over a mediocre second division team in 1960, the watching him build and rebuild a successful team. We see a man who is independent in mind, decisive, but has emotional intelligence. Unlike Brian Clough in The Damned United, he has respect for, and is respected by his Board, his staff, his counterparts in other clubs, and the public. As a manager, he came across as level headed, grounded by an almost silent but devoted wife and his invisible daughters. He was not driven by money and shunned the symbols of status.
The reader is drawn into this culture. Even those who would support 91 clubs ahead of Liverpool (yes, including Gillingham) will find ourselves rooting for Liverpool, hoping they will lift a trophy, hoping that the history books might be wrong and that the likes of Everton, Leeds and Manchester City might be denied. Peace's achievement in doing this is breathtaking.
As well as feeling for the club, the reader feels for the man. The endless trudging up and down the land. Travelling out, alone, across the country on a wet and windy night to watch a player. And then doing it again. And then calling that player for a meeting in Liverpool. The distances are considerable, and football managers and their players were simply expected to be where they were needed. There is a mention at one point of sending back a bus with no heating, but that's pretty much the only sop to creature comforts in this long novel. Mostly it is spartan.
Then, the second half of the novel (half the chapters, rather fewer than half the pages) sees Bill in his sudden, perhaps premature retirement. This is a point at which the reader's sympathy runs out. Despite seeing his counterparts hang around their former clubs, despite his determination not to do the same, Shankly just can't take the hint. It is painful to watch him trying to hang on, hang around, still believing he has a role even years later. In one scene, he writes a boy a note to exchange at the stadium for a behind the scenes tour. One can only wonder what the club would have made of that. Shankly betrays envy of his successor; he betrays hurt pride at being kept apart from the players. He claims perfect memory of the past, yet starts to become confused by his own stories. In two excruciating scenes, he conducts broadcast conversations with Sir Harold Wilson, whom we now know to have been diagnosed with dementia. The reader is left wondering whether Shankly is similarly afflicted.
The time of Shankly's story - his time as a manager and his time in retirement - saw significant change in social attitudes. Shankly is portrayed as a fair man who expects his supported to applaud their victorious opponents. He eschews contracts, being a man of his word and his handshake. He expects players to earn their money and receive the same pay, regardless of status. But as time progresses, more of the players are motivated by money; the fans start rioting; the tackling becomes harder. Shankly appears to stand there, not noticing the change. And when he does see it, he simply wrings his hands helplessly. Not, of course, that Shankly was quite as pure as he made out - advising his team to get their retaliation in first and producing false evidence at an FA disciplinary hearing in an effort to exonerate his player. But perhaps that was more honest cheating.
There are also wider social issues at play. Shankly was of the age when loyalty to an employer was more common, and there was an expectation in return that the employer would be loyal to the employee. That culture still, perhaps, clings on in Japan, where David Peace now lives. In part, Red Or Dead explores this theme. But at the same time, this was a loyalty denied to his players. As Ian St John found out after being dropped into the reserves, he was not allowed to touch the big, juicy turkeys at the Christmas party - they were for the first team. Shankly told him: "it comes to all of us". Yet, the only one who never quite got it, it seemed, was Shankly himself.
Football is an interesting backdrop for social and organisational change. It is a world where one individual can change a lot; a flat structure with only one boss. The results of change can become visible quite quickly and the feedback is immediate. Red Or Dead is a football book. It would be difficult to appreciate it if you didn't like football. But it is so much more. It is a novel, based on fact but nevertheless fiction, exploring the soul of a man and the soul of his football club. It leaves an impression.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent but not for everyone,
The story of Bill Shankly and Liverpool Football Club, written by David Peace whose output includes, amongst others, the "Red Riding Quartet" (sometimes referred to as Yorkshire noir), "The Damned United" and "GB84", about the 1984/85 Miners' strike. While the backdrop, which includes mini-descriptions of almost every match played by Liverpool F.C. during Shankly's reign, is entirely factual, many of the words uttered by the man and some of his actions, and those of his management team, his family, the ever-changing list of players etc. are fictional. It is broadly the same approach Peace used on "The Damned United" which covered Brian Clough's short (but troubled) period as manager of Leeds United F.C. However that novel could almost be seen as a playful short story compared with the intensity and scope of this one.
I used the word "intense" in relation to this book. There were plenty of other adjectives which occurred to me, viz.
Detailed (to a quite incredible degree)
Driven (both subject and author)
Obsessive (both subject and author)
English grammar challenging (see below)
I should explain my choice of this last adjective. It's hardly what you would expect in a five star review. The English football season follows a predictable flow albeit with variation in the results. Football training for a club follows a predictable flow with minor variation. But it is these subjects in relation to Liverpool F.C. which largely occupy the author in the first half - see later - of the book. And it is these subjects which concern the dedicated fan of a football club. Bill Shankly if we are to believe David Peace (and I see absolutely no reason not to), was not just manager of Liverpool, he was also a dedicated fan. This explains the attention Peace gives to each football season. He sticks to the same format each year as he does for each match and for each training session; in the process emphasising the similarities but also bringing out the subtle difference in results, telling us who scored the goals, who made the vital tackles, telling us about minor modifications to training etc. To the non-fan much of this is boring minutiae. Even to the fan this can sometimes feel like being bashed with a large (and regularly striking) hammer. But I believe this is all deliberate on the part of Peace, and intended to convey that combination of utter predictability and sometimes stunning unpredictability that is a football season
Anyone who's read anything by Peace will be aware of his propensity for taking English grammar to extremes. However it wasn't till I was somewhere round half way through that I noticed that he had introduced a fascinating new habit; ending a paragraph with a comma. At home,
at Anfield. Along lines like that. Maybe this is intended to give new power to the comma. Or maybe it's Peace keeping the reader on his or her toes.
Football is a game of two halves as the cliché has it. The second half in this tome covers Shankly leaving Liverpool and his life after managing the club he loved. It's considerably shorter than the first half and, in relative terms, lacking much of the familiar ritual, as indeed, Bill is missing the familiar ritual. In this half Bill discovers that the leaving of Liverpool is not how he thought it would be, Bill discovers the charms of Everton F.C., Bill tells a lorra stories (sorry, Cilla, couldn't resist!) and Bill crosses swords with Harold Wilson - more than once.
This book will not appeal to everyone. Liverpool fans who have never come across David Peace before will be in for a surprise. Those who persevere will be rewarded but there'll be several who give up after a hundred pages or so, if they get that far. Although I don't make a habit of reading sporting biographies I would imagine this is unlike any such book ever written. Of course it's not a biography. It's a novel. And it's a novel which gradually and painstakingly builds a portrait of a complex man, a man who had compassion, empathy and tenderness in spades yet who could be ruthless when it was required - and it was required regularly, a man with what we would now term "old-fashioned" values and yet one who could still turn a blind eye when he deemed it appropriate, and a man whose single-minded approach was the model for the successful football manager today.
A remarkable piece of writing, about a remarkable man.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's not to love?,
A no-brainer, really. Peace wrote The Damned United which is IMO excellent AND a tribute to both Clough and that great Leeds team. Defamation cases notwithstanding . . . and fact that both Clough and United had begun their respective declines. Red or Dead is an inside-the-head job on that other great 'manager' Bill Shankly. It stars Shankly, the Spion Kop and t people of Liverpool. Whats not to love?
btw, Peace's two Tokyo books are also excellent.
5.0 out of 5 stars Give Peace a Chance,
This review is from: Red or Dead (Paperback)
Be warned - this book is far from being everyone's cup of tea. Peace's writing style is highly stylised and brutally repetitive. If you're a fan of nihilistic experimental literature, like Samuel Beckett or BS Johnson, you'll feel right at home. If you're more a fan of Liverpool Football Club, you may well find this a really boring and frustrating read.
With that health warning off my chest, I have to say I absolutely loved 'Red or Dead'. It takes David Peace's rhythmic, ritualistic, repetitive, stripped-down writing style to a whole new level. As a reading experience I found it completely mesmerising and wholly, grippingly absorbing.
"Repetition, repetition." These are the opening words, believe it or not, to the prologue of Peace's 'The Damned United', and in 'Red or Dead' repetition is not only the hallmark of Peace's style but is also the crux of the narrative and the heart of the book's philosophy. It's a book that turns the spotlight on a truth that's virtually absent from literature: our lives are composed almost entirely of repetition. Our days, our weeks and our years - for most of us, they follow a familiar and highly repetitive pattern. Most of all, our work is repetitive, particularly when that work is skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled manual work: working-class work, in other words. And this is very explicitly a book about working-class work, and how its rhythms, its routines and its repetitions can not only be a source of meaning and satisfaction and pride, but also can form unbreakable bonds of solidarity between workers - in other words, how shared manual work is fundamental to the creation of a socialist class consciousness.
Liverpool Football Club's work, and Bill Shankly's work, is explicitly portrayed in 'Red or Dead' as a paragon of skilled working-class artisanal labour, requiring perfectly skilled execution of tasks that have been practiced and honed through infinite repetitions. The repetition is pounded into us through hundreds of pages describing the team's endless sequence of training sessions and matches, each of them depicted almost identically, and yet each of them subtly different. Just like most people's working days. More than this, Shankly requires a selfless co-operation between his team members, and an absolute identification of the team with the working men standing on the terraces at Anfield, such that the teamwork of the Liverpool players becomes a living, moving metaphor for the class solidarity that exists within the Red army of Merseyside men that stand and sing their support for Liverpool Football Club on the Kop.
So far, so idealistic. But the real power of 'Red or Dead' is that it's a book with tragedy and deep pathos at its heart. As the book moves through season after season of Shankly's tenure as manger, time and again he must drop ageing players from the first team, taking their work away from them. Work one day must end, and with it the structure and meaning and solidarity that it brings. And Shankly's work must end too. The crisis point of 'Red or Dead' is Shankly's retirement in 1974, following which, with his work now gone, he must fight the confusion and aimlessness of his workless sunset years. This last section of the novel is almost too poignant and pathos-laden to bear.
But, here too, Peace is making a deeper point. The mid-1970s was a bleak era of miners' strikes and three-day-weeks and picket lines and vicious football violence, and the era's social and political background tugs away at the narrative like a dark undertow. These symptoms of the death throes of Britain's industrial working class and the dissolution of working class solidarity all had a common cause: the simple loss of work, and with it the loss of structure and the loss of meaning from industrial workers' lives. At this level, 'Red or Dead', with its relentless focus on work and the loss of work, acts as an elegy for the destruction of Britain's industrial working class, in the much same way as its sister volume 'GB84' did, but with much greater subtlety and (for me at least) much greater power.
As a long-time admirer of David Peace, I think 'Red or Dead' stands head and shoulders above anything else he has previously written. It's an incredibly daring, brave and bloody-minded piece of fiction which succeeds quite brilliantly. For my money it's an absolute masterpiece.
2.0 out of 5 stars Pull The Curtains,
The Damned Utd was a fascinating and extraordinary book, even though I never did and still don't like Brian Clough. So it perhaps says something that I gave up on Red or Dead before Liverpool have won their first championship, despite the fact that I am a true devotee of the cult of Shankly. It was Bill Shankly who made me interested in football in the first place, it was Liverpool I followed, the Kop I stood on to watch them many, many times. I've long ago fallen out of love with football, but the memory of Shankly still holds a place in my heart. So I was extremely disappointed in this book. The thing about Bill was, the thing that made so many people love him, was his voice, that gruff, staccato, tough but yet kindly voice, always ready with a bit of quick fire wit. And in this book that voice did not come across to me at all. It is lost, drowned in the endless, endless repetition. Shankly was a lively man, full of energy and life, and the rebarbative style kills all the life in the story, rendering it boring and flat. As a writing exercise for a short story, even a short story about Shankly, the style could have been interesting and effective, but over 700 pages it just gets tedious. And just to add insult to injury, Peace omits some of Shanks' best lines ("Come and walk round him") and for a book whelmed in unnecessary statistical detail I spotted a couple of mistakes.
61 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Red or Dead,
This review is from: Red or Dead (Hardcover)
Friend of the Facebook page 'The Unofficial Liverpool Football Club Museum',
Albert Mooney has written a review for the page which I am sharing on here...
Shankly's Dreaming ...
Three years into an unhappy retirement, Bill Shankly watched the football club he had taught to beat to the relentless pulse of his own ferocious heart win the one major trophy that eluded him. "This is the result," he said of Liverpool's 1977 European Cup triumph, "of simplicity." "Simplicity" is one of the words the Shankly so richly imagined in David Peace's new novel, Red or Dead, employs to describe his philosophy of football and life (for the Shankly in these pages, as was the case in reality, acknowledges no distinction between the two). Others are "honesty" and "socialism." For David Peace's Shankly, football, no matter at what level it was played, was true to itself only when it understood that it was always about the very biggest things - integrity, commitment, solidarity. In every game, be it a European final or a FA Cup 4th round replay, the matter that was at stake was the matter of the truth.
In over 700 pages of prose that is as intense and driven as the man it describes, Peace sets out to reanimate in fiction the most charismatic and transformative figure in English football history. The result is arguably the most ambitious attempt to write a football literary epic yet made, one that exceeds the already high standard set by the same author in his previous foray into the same world with The Damned United. Readers whose expectations of football fiction were defined by Nick Hornby are in for a shock. There is no gentle irony here, no clever pop culture references or humorous ruminations on male identity. This is football literature on a Homeric scale. The campaigns of the 1960s and 70s are recounted as if the Trojan War was being fought on the rain-sodden pitches of Anfield, Goodison and Highbury. This is the world that Shankly lived in, the world that the Liverpool FC he created anew in his own imaged played in, and the world that the novel brings to life. The Anfield dressing room is depicted as the crucible of a passionate intensity schooled in the mining villages of Ayreshire and the poetry of Robert Burns, a passion which is carried from the dressing room onto the pitch and from the pitch to the Kop, where it finds its echo and response.
Ultimately, Red or Dead is a novel about community, and something closely related to it, the idea of communion, the moment when one becomes all. If it is a love story, it is the story of the romance between Bill and the Kop (with the patiently uncomplaining Nessie suffering in silence in the background). The Kop is depicted as the embodiment of Shankly's ideal of community, his Utopia, his Plato's Republic. The Kop is a people - the people, as Shankly repeatedly says - emerging out of his dreams and reveries of togetherness and into roaring, red, full-throated life beneath the Anfield skies. The Kop is the inside of Bill Shankly's head, in flesh and song.
Red or Dead is divided into two sections - or "halves", as they are termed. The first, and longest, is entitled "Everyday is Saturday: Shankly Among the Scousers" and recounts the glory years when Shankly, through sheer force of obsessive personality and refusal to accept a world lesser than the one in he thought it should be, raises up humdrum Second Division strugglers to the most storied institution in football. The second, shorter half - "Everyday is Sunday: Shankly Agonistes" - is in many respects the tragic and emotional heart of the novel. Here we encounter the ageing Shankly in retirement - a decision he bitterly regretted - wandering lost, like a King Lear of Liverpool, through the streets of the city, lingering in tortured silence outside the Anfield dressing room as the sound of unfamiliar voices drifts from within, seeking conversation with strangers in cafes, discoursing on tactics to himself while sitting alone on the Blackpool seafront, feeling abandoned by a club he recreated and which had moved on without him. There are passages of restrained beauty in these closing pages which brilliantly capture the sorrowful dignity of age, and decline, and eclipse.
Red or Dead is not only a novel about a man, and a city, and a football club. It is also the story of a generation. Shankly is a child of the Depression, and formed in an age of war, sacrifice and the great post-war Labour governments. The generation that won the war and built the NHS was the generation that built great, Europe-conquering working class institutions in Anfield, Celtic Park - and yes, Old Trafford (some Liverpool fans may not enjoy the novel's depiction of the warmth and mutual respect that existed between Shankly and Matt Busby). "We are a workers club", declares Shankly. Anyone who thinks politics should be left out of football - an assertion with which Bill Shankly, who rarely passed on an opportunity to remind people of his socialism, would have disagreed - will not find it a comfortable read. The novel's approach to Shankly's politics is minimalist - subtle, but insistent. At brief but key moments, three prime ministers - two Shankly admired, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson, and one he did not, Margaret Thatcher - appear. One powerful passage has the declining Shankly, facing into his mortality, turning off the TV as the Tory victory in the 1979 election is announced, and staring in silence into a silent Merseyside street. The values of a generation were passing into history as he felt himself passing.
The novel's singular achievement, however, is in how it constructs with great patience and the repetition of stark and simple sentences - "simplicity" - a compelling and believable image of Shankly in all his wit and character. At one point towards the end, a fan asks him, "you know you are a genius, don't you?" Shankly replies: "I am not a genius. I have only ever tried to be an honest man." Shankly's ethic was that ordinary people were capable of extraordinary things if they would work together as a team - always the team, never the individual - in solidarity and trust - "honesty." The people did not need "geniuses" - the special one, above and apart - anymore than Liverpool needed George Best.
In the novel's depiction of his declining years, as his relationship with the officials at Liverpool FC becomes ever more estranged, Shankly's relationship with the people of the Kop deepens and grows. As he retreats in his loneliness into a private world, the thing he imagined into existence grows bigger all around him with Liverpool FC commencing its march to European dominance.
The novel brilliantly captures this life of a visionary, for whom the walls between internal dreams of what could be and the external world of what must be are no walls at all. For such men, the question is always to decide whether they are a lunatic or a prophet. Readers of this profound book will come to understand about Bill Shankly what those who followed him and those who opposed him knew all too well: that, while he may have been eccentric, he was also the sanest man in football.
Red or Dead
Faber and Faber, August 2013
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Avoid!,
This could have been a fantastic book, the subject matter is there, but Peace writes with his C**k in his hand.
I bought the kindle version - so I don't know exactly how many pages there are, but the book could have easily been culled by a third of those pages. And then some.
A horrifically botched biography, poor old Bill will probably wait for Peace at the pearly gates and despach him straight to hell.
189 of 230 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A book. A book about David. A book about David Peace.,
This review is from: Red or Dead (Hardcover)
This is not a book about Bill Shankly, the football manager, at home, at Anfield. At home or at Anfield. Bill the manager, the football manager. Of Liverpool. Of Liverpool at Anfield. Managed at Anfield, by Bill. Bill Shankly, the football manager. The football manager of Liverpool,at Anfield. This is a book about a man who writes. A writer who is a man. A man who writes books. A man who writes books with words. A man who writes books with words and sentences. A man who is a writer who writes books with words. A man who is a writer who is a man who is a writer who writes books with words and sentences. A man who is a writer who is a man who is a writer who writes books with words and sentences and then writes the same words and the same sentences. The same words and sentences in the same book by a man who is a writer who writes books. With the same words. With the same words and the same sentences. Over and over again. Over and over and over again. Over and over and over and over again. The man writes the book with the same words and sentences. The man who is a writer. And then he washes the dishes. The dishes, in his house. In his house, at home.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars worth a read if you are a true red,
Some times hard going sometimes the repetition is annoying overall it gives a good read it has ups and downs and as a follower of Liverpool Football Club for nearly 40 years it brought a lump to the throat at times and shivers down the spine at others
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A long story about a legend,
I agree the writing style is at times irritating but it does demonstrate the obsession of Bill Shankly to achieve his goals, the insight into a driven man. Football is simple game often ruined by making it over complicated and the same could be said of this book. The book takes it time to get a grip on but then you " get into it" it is a compelling book whilst it was in my hand. It is not of the standard of the Damned United which was excellent and difficult to put down this book could be put down at any time. I think it is an interesting book but not one that will stick in the memory as a pleasure to read.
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Red or Dead by David Peace (Hardcover - 1 Aug 2013)