As many of you know, I quite like football. I especially like watching Liverpool Football Club play. I like live football best. I really like seeing them at Anfield, though have recently had to make do with a draw at the Emirates! I also like reading about football.
So, I was recently given this gift of Red or Dead which was written by David Peace. It is the story of Bill Shankly, you know, that Scottish guy who managed Liverpool from 1959 when the club had spent 5 years in the then second division. He was manager until 1974. Imagine that today, 15 years managing one club. Shankly was 60 when Liverpool won the 1974 FA Cup. In September 1981, he died of a cardiac arrest, still living in his beloved Liverpool, at the relatively young age of 68.
He is known for the often misquoted words: Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that
Why I’m writing about it here is because of the way David Peace approached the book, his novel (he also wrote The Damned United.) I don’t need to explain it because Mark Lawson does it here for me, where he mentions ‘hypnotic repetition’. It feels like Peace breaks all the rules. See what he says, here:
Here, for instance, is the protagonist of Red or Dead at home with his wife: “Bill got up from his chair. Bill kissed Ness on the cheek. And Bill said, Goodnight, love.”
Those sentences are typical of the style. Opening the book at random, I find, on page 249, 50 repetitions of “Bill”. Certain other formulations echo through the more than 700 pages of Red or Dead. Almost every game at Liverpool’s regular ground is noted as being “at home, at Anfield”, while Bill is on uncountable occasions to be found at home “in the night and in the silence” and is often consulting there “his book of names, his book of notes”.
This rhythm of reiteration, which imposes on fiction a tactic more associated with poetry, is also present in the linking prose (“Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley were concerned. Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley were worried”) and even extends to the dialogue.
Shankly was a monomaniac – author of the still-quoted observation that football isn’t a matter of life and death, but more important than that – whose training methods relied on drills being endlessly duplicated.
Peace’s controversial echo-chamber style exactly suggests a mind and a life moving through – and sometimes stuck in – a shallow groove, seeing no other routes. In this context, the nine detailed pages devoted to the retired Shankly carrying out household chores (“Bill held the cloth over the water in the bucket. Bill wrung out the cloth”) achieve a perfect mimesis of the condition of an obsessive seeking a replacement fixation.
It’s certainly hypnotising me!