David Peace’s novel about the obsessions of Liverpool manager Bill Shankly has certainly been dividing opinion. Friends of mine who heard Red Or Dead on BBC Radio 4’s book at bedtime said that they had to turn off, driven to distraction by Peace’s repetitive technique and the words “Liverpool Football Club” in almost every line. Meanwhile, Frank Cottrell Boyce opened his review in The Observer with this simple statement: “Red Or Dead is a masterpiece.”
The main issue is whether you can get along with the style. Ironically, examples of the repetitions – which Peace told me are crucial to getting a sense of Shankly – were cut from the Metro piece, probably because they were too annoying! But here’s an example.
“On the bench, the Anfield bench. In the fiftieth minute, Bill and forty-two thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine folk watched Chris Lawler score. Five minutes later they watched Emlyn Hughes score. And in the eighty-eighth minute they watched Brian Hall score. And Liverpool Football Club beat Norwich City three-one. At home. At Anfield.”
This goes on for page after page, game after game. When Bill Shankly gets home, we are treated to page upon page of him tidying the house. I think it just about works in terms of exploring Shankly’s obsessions and the grinding pressure of a football season – although of course not everyone has the luxury of David Peace personally explaining that to them. But it’s still worth reading Red Or Dead – even if you don’t get on with it – to get some sense of how it must be to operate in the lonely position of a football manager.