David Peace: ‘My comfort read? Old Labour party manifestos’

The novelist on the brilliance of Bulgakov, the Japanese short story that changed him, and wanting to live in Pogles’ Wood

The book I am currently reading
I am trying to write a novel about Harold Wilson and so almost all of my current reading is in pursuit of that goal. Today, it’s Point of No Return, an account of the Ulster Workers’ Council strike of 1974, by the late, great, and much missed Robert Fisk.

The book that changed my life
I read to learn and with the hope of being changed and transformed, and so I would hope that every book I read changes me to some degree. But obviously some do more than others, and of those the works of Oscar Wilde, Lu Xun, Nâzim Hikmet, Christopher Hill, Albert Camus, Eileen Chang, Paul Celan, James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, Ingeborg Bachmann, Heiner Müller and Jean-Patrick Manchette have been seismic.

The book I wish I’d written
Every day I wish I could write books that even approach the brilliance of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita or Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber or James Ellroy’s White Jazz and many, many more. But most recently, I was filled with awe and more than a touch of envy when I read The Treatment by Michael Nath, and it remains a mystery to me how that book did not win every prize going and top the bestseller list for a year.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
There have been many, and I hope there will be many more, but the most enduring is probably the short story “In a Grove” by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. It’s one of the great, but still neglected modernist texts, and changed my way of seeing and thus of writing.

The book I think is most underrrated
Anything by Eoin McNamee, but particularly The Blue Tango and The Ultras. Eoin’s prose remains some of the very finest in the English language. I’m also heartened to see Bad Penny Blues by Cathi Unsworth back in print.

The last book that made me cry
Failures of State: The Inside Story of Britain’s Battle with Coronavirus by Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott. To paraphrase William Tyndale, Lord open the people of England’s eyes.

The last book that made me laugh
I am reluctant to admit Four Crowded Years: The Diaries of Auberon Waugh, 1972-1976. Bron was laugh-out-loud funny, I’ll give him that.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
I’m constantly aware of how many books I have not read, particularly from other continents and cultures, and of how little time there is to read all that I would wish. However, the shame comes when I then find myself rereading Wuthering Heights, Bleak House, The Quiet American or Tinker Tailor for the umpteenth time. And knowing it won’t be the last time, either.

The book I give as a gift
One of my own, to be honest, though I struggle to even give them away. So if anyone fancies a Norwegian edition of Rød eller Død, please do get in touch, thank you.

My earliest reading memory
Pippin, the comic; I aspired to live in Pogles’ Wood and on many days still do.

My comfort read
The 2017 and 2019 Labour party manifestos; never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never.

David Peace’s Tokyo Redux is published by Faber (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.


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