Peterdown by David Annand - review by Tom Williams

Tom Williams

A Town of Two Halves

Peterdown

By

Corsair 608pp £16.99
 

David Annand’s debut novel takes place in a morose industrial town, Peterdown – ‘low-rise, analogue, more broken than brokered’. Once the greatest manufacturer of locomotive carriages in the world, now ‘the future is coming to Peterdown for the first time in a long time’. The old goods line that passes through is being upgraded as part of Britain’s first ever bullet train system and the town will soon become the regional hub station of the High Speed+ network.

In order to accommodate such a transformation, however, a local landmark will have to be demolished. One candidate is the Chapel, stadium of the town’s second-tier football team, Peterdown United (capacity 20,000 – good, but not enough for the Premier League). An alternative is Larkspur Hill, a modernist housing estate. Annand maps this conflict onto the couple at the heart of his novel. On one side, there is Colin Ryder, sports correspondent for the Peterdown Evening Post and loyal follower of United. On the other is his girlfriend, Ellie Ferguson, an architect originally from north London, who protests that the unloved estate is, in fact, ‘the most architecturally significant building for fifty miles in all directions’. They are, in David Goodhart’s conception of 21st-century Britain, contrasting representatives of the ‘Somewheres’ and the ‘Anywheres’.

The rival campaigns stand in comic parallel: Ellie’s listing application on behalf of the estate is ‘good enough to be published as a coffee table book’, while the Save the Chapel campaign website looks ‘like it had been built in 1998’. Ellie is the outsider, conscious that half the town sees her as ‘cold and standoffish and an intellectual snob’, but buoyed by a sense of cultural mission. Inevitably, perhaps, she gravitates towards Pankaj Shastry, a smooth, ‘telegenic former human rights barrister’ and newly elected Labour MP parachuted in from head office, who, despite his workload, seems to have copious amounts of free time to help her. When Colin encounters the politician, he falters in front of Pankaj’s confidence, which is ‘like a sonic boom’.

Colin becomes the media officer in the ramshackle fans’ protest group. Annand has fun drawing upon a range of historical precedents here: there are references to the formation of FC United of Manchester in 2005 by disaffected Manchester United supporters and to the Captain Swing protests that swept through southern and eastern England in the 1830s (the threatening letters sent by the fans are signed in the name of ‘Major Wroth’). We are repeatedly told of the collective identity bestowed by fanhood, which becomes all the more resilient in the face of the villainous doings of Andrew Kirk, the owner of the football club.

Peterdown is a state-of-the-nation work evincing a sweeping preoccupation with ideas of community, space and place. The relationship between Colin and Ellie feels underdeveloped: they drift apart without much tension or reverberation; the fact that they have a daughter appears to be a plot device that becomes less relevant as the book goes on. But when Annand shifts into satirical territory, his prose becomes more compelling, the caricatures more fully realised. We meet Yvonne Kington, the leader of Peterdown Council, who is ‘convinced of her own bristling virtue’ and, most enjoyably, the Zižek-like fan Rodbortzoon, a further education college lecturer with a beard and a ‘heavy but unplaceable European accent’, who regards the problem with United’s frantic midfielders as symptomatic of ‘late capitalism’: ‘Make sure everyone knows you are working. They have internalised their paymaster’s fetishisation of the appearance of dynamism.’

Annand experiments fitfully with form, offering transcripts of a fan’s podcast and psychogeographical interludes that take us through the territory of the town. Indeed, so detailed are the geographical diversions that one can imagine the author providing accompanying maps of his fictional territory. Its publication coinciding with the formation and implosion of the European Super League (and the oleaginous apologies of the billionaire club owners), Peterdown is a timely book, clear in its concerns and vital in its focus.

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