Rating: 2 stars
If you’re expecting GB84 to be a work of historical fiction, laying out the ins and outs of the Miners’ Strike, you’re going to be disappointed in this book.
If you approach it as a satire framed as a crime thriller, you might get along with it.
It took me half the book to work out how I felt about it. My conclusion: it’s an odd book. I’ve now read three of David Peace‘s books and this is the second where I’ve found his style hard to tune into. Tokyo Year Zero was similar, with the main story interspersed with disjointed inner monologues that break off mid sentence, sitting on a left hand page in between chapters.
The crime thriller style is an interesting choice. It reminds me in places of Derek Raymond’s style – all brittle, chippy sentences and world weary despair. The difference with Raymond is that I feel sympathy with his main character. Apart from Pete who organises the flying pickets, I didn’t feel much at all for any of the people in GB84. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to. Maybe that was the point – it wasn’t about people, it was about Peace wanting to show how ridiculous the whole thing was, in some way, and that the miners were duped by Scargill and the NUM into thinking it was about jobs and lives. The structure of farcical exposé of the machinations between NUM and government against a background of MI5 weirdness, juxtaposed with the experiences of the flying pickets almost works, because I certainly felt even more depressed about this moment of British history as a result of seeing the striking miners’ struggles next to the idiots with their power plays.
One thing really niggled – the naming of one character as ‘the Jew’. I didn’t see the need for Peace to refer to that character by his religion or ethnicity rather than his name. Or at least not without context, i.e. to clearly show the antisemitism of the establishment he was trying to break into.
Overall, GB84 isn’t the book I was hoping it would be. The elements of a great book are all there – the researched facts, the intelligent suppositions about what is missing from the historical record – but the first part of the book reads as though Peace was more interested in showing off his style than writing anything meaningful, and by the end of the second part the main narrative has slipped fully into pantomime and farce. From part three, all the disparate strands start to come together, the pace picks up and I did start to feel gripped, but it shouldn’t take two thirds of a book to get me to that point. There was a lull around 60 pages from the end, where I just wanted it to end. The ending was simply bizarre.
Shocking though to discover that something in the region of £65,000,000 was spent on policing the first 100 days of the strike, compensating other industries affected by the strike, paying for alternative power, paying for imports of coal from Poland. By the end of the conflict, an estimated £3bn had been spent by the government. The strike was originally about the closure of pits for economic reasons. It’s amazing the money governments can find when they’ve got a point to make.