It is the year after Hiroshima and in a shattered Tokyo Detective Minami investigates the murder of two young girls found close to each other in Shiba Park. The chief suspect is very quickly identified and charged and the majority of the book follows Minami as he searches for connections to a number of similar murders; all of which point to a hidden truth in his own past.
The murders and the identity of the killer are secondary to a mediation on the meaning of identity and are ultimately a metaphor for the birth of a new Japan- a country struggling to find itself after the devastation of American victory.
David Peace is a writer, for me, whose imagination and stylist inventiveness are barely contained by the robustness of his craft. He treads a very fine line between dazzling brilliance and unreadable pretentious twoddle. Never more so than here.
The plot points, the characters and the stylistic flourishes will be familiar to any reader of his Red Riding Quartet, but everything is turned up to eleven. We have the familiar corrupt cops, the lead character tortured by his past and searching for redemption. We have the betrayed family, the lust for prostitutes, the underworld father figures, the drugs and a killer- whose identity is a clue to the protagonist's shady past. All of these will be familiar to anyone who has read 1974 and 1977, as will be the cascading text, narrowing to a point of a single word, and the repeating mantras that make up such a bulk of the text.
Tokyo Year Zero is undoubtedly an impressive book, it is a beautiful evocation of time and place, written in a hugely distinctive style which can be both exhilarating and disturbing.
In parts Peace's writing is simply stunning, but too often it loses itself in a miasma of repetition and the substance becomes buried by the style. Still, it has to be said that not many authors chart the territory of inner turmoil as thoroughly or as effectively as Peace.
This is a hugely ambitious novel and in parts fails because of it's aspirations, but the ending is shattering and just about manages to pull it back into something worth the undoubted effort that it takes to read this book. Just about.
on 19 January 2009
God, I'm baffled by all the negative reaction to this novel. I thought it was just the most stunning, visceral, haunting and hallucinatory book I've ever read. Peace's style risks teetering into self-parody, but in my view he avoids it here - and the result of that risk-taking is to put you right inside the mind, the body, the soul of Detective Minami, to make you breathe the foul air of postwar Tokyo, to make you ache for his poor wife and children, and to dream his recurring nightmares.
It's exhausting, and it's far from easy or light-hearted, but please please please if it sounds like your kind of thing, don't let the low average rating on here put you off. It's Peace at his best - and that's saying something.
on 17 February 2009
A fantastic original work that contains real substance in defining the nadir of a nation's history before its renaissance. A range of literary styles are cleverly worked to depict an artistic layering of perspective: cine-documentary style observation, sub-textual psychological references, sensory descriptions, rhythmic soundtrack, non-linear narrative. All of these and much more provide an orchestral literary experience that requires concentration and imagination by the reader. This work could easily be visualised as a screenplay and that gives it something extra in terms of reader involvement.
The novel transcends the limitations of pure fiction and non-fiction by successfully combining the two. The 'noir' crime drama format is beautifully adapted without sacrificing the excitement and tension that punctuates the story at regular and unpredictable intervals. This is not a standard procedural "who done it" and may not appeal to followers of popular crime best sellers.
There are few novels that I would read more than once,however,'Tokyo Year Zero' is a work invested with so much original talent and detailed research that I will read it again in sections to more fully appreciate it's content.
I understand that part two of the trilogy is out this summer and look forward to it with high expectations
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.
on 9 February 2008
There are some nice ideas in this book but these are marred by awful writing. Endlessly repetitive sequences which the writer seems to think make for high tension and expressive of paranoia and claustrophobia. The only thing I felt claustrophobic about was reading the book. The style is pretentious and faux. The main ideas (if you can find them amid all the drivelling repetition) seem to be a) the different effects of violent trauma on different people, leading to dissociative disorder (split from self) in the main character, violent crime in the perpetrator, vicious power mania in the main character's rival, and vicious gang development by another, and b) the effects of natural and human trauma on a country. For much more interesting and certainly much more clearly and naturally written descriptions of reactions to trauma from that period, I would read The Railway Man by Eric Lomax. For descriptions of post war Tokyo and the effect of the war on its populace, read Dower, Embracing Defeat, which is a 1,000 times more powerful for being written with the aim of communicating ideas clearly to the reader, rather than being a book written with the purpose of solely of showing cleverness which is what Peace's book seems to be about - and fails even in that.
I am always a little wary about fiction which comes complete with a bibliography, but I have been sufficiently interested in David Peace's previous work to let him off this time around.
Once again, he fictionalises a historical story; his post-World War II Japan is a place of food shortages, murder, corruption and widespread suspicion, as no-one is who he claims to be and identity is imposed by others' expectations.
There are times (I felt the same with "GB84" but not with "The Damned Utd") when tricksy stylistic devices and the format chosen seem to overwhelm the story, and it remains to be seen where the rest of the promised trilogy can and will take us, but I remain convinced that David Peace is one of our most original modern writers, with an ear for dialogue few can match.
on 1 November 2013
This novel begins brightly enough. But it's repetitious. Peace uses an interesting technique of dropping an onomatopoeia into the text every few lines or repeating a character's thoughts over and over. Repetitious. When done well, it gives a section a bit of rhythm and an insight into the character's mindset. But it's repetitious.
The problem with the novel, though, is that Peace does this ALL the time. What starts off as something original, quickly becomes repetitious, then boring, then annoying, then absolutely infuriating. Original, boring, infuriating. Original, boring, infuriating. At first I was waiting to see what other tricks Peace had up his sleeve, but it turns out this is it. Infuriating, infuriating, infuriating. Repetitious. The passages he chooses to repeat become less and less suited to the technique as well. I want a sandwich. While at first it is the 'don don' sound of the reconstruction and rebuilding going on all around the city, a ham and cheese sandwich, later it seems like a child who's just discovered the copy and paste function on his word processor has got hold of the manuscript, I want a ham and cheese sandwich with lettuce and mayonnaise, and flung random sentences into the narrative while no one was looking, lettuce and mayonnaise, lettuce and mayonnaise. Ham and cheese.
The novel is not even saved by a decent plot. There is a detective who has changed his name after returning from the war in China. And there are some murders, which are mostly solved by other people in scenes we don't witness. The main detective runs back and forth across Tokyo (passing the same places, which are described in the same way each time) seeing hundreds of different people who usually don't progress the story in any way, and a handful of common characters who all have secrets and mysteries, which, much like that of the main character, are known to exist, but never fleshed out and never explained.
It also becomes increasingly difficult to tell the main detective's dreams and past experiences from reality. No single event has any real drama since you don't know until several pages later whether it's going to have any consequences.
Motives are not really explored either. I think about her all the time. One of the great skills of a novelist, I think, is to encourage us to understand and sympathise when a character makes wrong decisions. I think about her all the time. This simply doesn't happen here. I think about her all the time. We know, for example, that the detective has a prostitute mistress who he must go to all the time, but their relationship is never explained and we have no idea what hold the woman has on him. Knowing that the detective 'thinks about her all the time' is not enough. Instead of sympathising, therefore, with the desperate choice he seems to be making each time he leaves his wife and children, we just sit there thinking, well don't go then if it bothers you so much.
I was going to give this book 2 stars, but looking back now, I can't actually think of a positive thing to say about it. I guess I don't regret reading it - it was something different at least - but overall it's pretty much just a dull old slog with no reward.
Ham and cheese.
I felt mildly uncomfortable reading "Tokyo Year Zero". It's definitely an ambitious novel, based on a true crime committed in post-surrender Japan, in a country where lives have been destroyed and a proud people are surviving hand to mouth. Given the struggling state of the country, it's odd to think that murders are being investigated but Inspector Minami is assigned to the case and quickly uncovers that the murder is not a once-off but part of the handiwork of a serial rapist and killer.
It's clear that Minami is a man struggling with the world around him, and Peace uses inner monologues to bring the character to the reader. Repetitive sequences of words are designed to evoke the sounds of the world but fail to engage. Instead they feel intrusive and distracting. Although it's clear that the book is well-researched and the despair of post-war Japan is quite evocative, the unexciting plot, combined with the repetitive writing, means that the book falls short.
on 26 February 2009
I can understand the criticism of this book. The repetition can get a bit much, the story isn't signposted, it's hard work etc. In fact i think i enjoyed the book a lot more once i'd read it and ruminated on it. I don't agree with the pretenious guff about how it's a meditation on how a nation's violent trauma causes individuals to suffer from multiple personality disorder or any of that. It plays like a pretty straight noir, with the caveat that the narrator has assumed a new identity after a war. I liked it a lot, but i loved GB84, the Red Riding Quartet a LOT more.
Tokyo Year Zero shows what a one trick pony David Peace is becoming as a writer. The trademark style, once so distinctive, is now wearing thin as page after page of ranting unfolds to make this story almost unintelligible. Blending staccato, repetitive narrative with page-long ramblings that open each section of the book, little story really emerges from this. Interestingly, for a book praised by James Ellroy on the cover as being "part historical blinder" - virtually no atmosphere of ruined Japan emerged for me in the pages of this awful, awful book. Peace lists impressive reference material at the end of the book, so has clearly done his homework. Shame then, that it only merits a 0/10 from me as reader. The opener of a planned trilogy, I personally will be bailing out after this instalment. Virtually unreadable, totally unenjoyable.