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Guy Ware

The Peckham Experiment

The Peckham Experiment


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Guy Ware's new novel charts a course from the 1930s onwards through the fragmentary memories of the 85 year-old Charlie, whose identical twin brother JJ has recently died. Sons of a working-class Communist family, growing up in the radical Peckham Experiment and orphaned by the Blitz, the twins emerge from the war keen to build the New Jerusalem.

In 1968, JJ’s ideals are rocked by the fatal collapse of a tower block his council and Charlie’s development company have built. When the entire estate is demolished in 1986 JJ retires, apparently defeated. Now he is dead and Charlie, preparing for the funeral, relives their history, their family and their politics. It’s a story of how we got to where we are today told in a voice – opinionated, witty, garrulous, indignant, guilty, deluded and, as the night wears on, increasingly drunken – that sucks us in to both the idealism and the corruption it depicts, leaving us wondering just where we stand.

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Praise for this Book

‘If Harold Pinter had written a London Our Friends in the North it would read a lot like The Peckham Experiment. Charlie has one of the most memorable voices in recent fiction; defiant, yearning, sometimes sozzled, with every sentence steeped in the city and the turbulent times that shaped it.’ —Rob Palk

‘Dear, queer, Charlie is a wonderful creation. 85, his twin brother has died, and over a single night, while he tries to write the eulogy for the funeral the following day, he thinks back over his life, his loves, his career in housing. And in the tower block that collapses resides his family’s idealism, regarding council housing, its long slow fall to market forces.

Ware has written a brilliant, ultimately moving book, about families about those things which keep them together, drive them apart.’ —Drew Gummerson

The Peckham Experiment is a glowing slice through London's official and unofficial 20th century, told in a vivid and memorable voice.’ —Will Wiles

Reviews of this Book

‘Charlie Jellicoe, 85, erudite, gay, leftist, former property developer, sits in his flat in Peckham’s famous modernist Pioneer Centre, penning a eulogy on the eve of his twin’s funeral. Throughout one drunken night, he rehashes a lifetime of love and war, of corruption and compromise, idealism and betrayal, with magnificent acid wit, because old age should burn and rage at close of day.’ —Rose Shepherd, Saga Magazine

‘A new novel featuring Peckham’s famous Pioneer Health Centre – the striking modernist building on St Mary’s Road that was created to promote the wellbeing of the working-class familites and is now flat – will be published next month … The action unfolds through the fragmentary memories of a now 85-year-old Charlie, whose twin brother JJ has recently died. As he prepared for the funeral, he relives their history, family and politics.’ —The Peckham Peculiar

‘★★★★ For all its topical resonance – amid a national housing crisis and the long aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire – the novel’s fatalistic register and taut, controlled narrative voice, by turns doleful and sardonic, set it apart from the preachier political allegories that are currently in such oversupply. Ware’s narrator has kept the faith, but he is under no illusions: “the universe is not moral and history has no arc. Its trajectory is an irregular spiral, turning constantly in upon itself ... If there is an end, a destination beyond mere annihilation, it is lost to sight.”’ —Houman Barekat, The Telegraph

‘London itself is a central character here, as seen through the eyes of now 80-something queer quantity surveyor Charlie. We join him on the night of his twin brother's funeral and as he tries to write a eulogy (while getting increasingly sloshed), Charlie recalls the city's journey from the idealism of the actual 1930s Peckham Experiment – which encouraged working-class families to actively participate in their own well-being – to institutional corruption; the power cuts of the three-day week, the rise of Enoch Powell and, above all, the devastating collapse of the tower block that his brother built … there are shades of the great Gordon Burn in Ware's portrait of period, place and class.’ —Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

‘‘Housing is at the heart of everything’: the shadow of Grenfell looms over an engaging, deeply impressive novel about utopian aims in London’s building history.’ —Keiran Goddard, The Guardian

‘Although the majority of the novel is told via reminiscence, its nominal present is the day of the 2017 election, which saw the Conservative party lose its majority and Corbyn’s Labour party deliver the biggest increase in vote share since the second world war. And setting the novel at that precise moment in history is what makes it one of the most moving books I have read in some time: not because of the party politics, but because of the horrific events that occurred in the days that followed. Less than a week after the polls closed, 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire. This is the image that haunts the pages of The Peckham Experiment, the logical and tragic result of shifting from multiple models of social provision to a single model that prioritises profit, no matter the ultimate cost. The novel leaves the reader in no doubt that we are living in the perpetual aftermath of what Charlie terms progressive collapse: “It’s what we call it when a structural failing spreads through a building, like dominoes knocking down their neighbours.”’ —Keiran Goddard, The Guardian

‘The novel begins on the eve of JJ’s funeral, with Charlie struggling to write a eulogy for his 85-year-old brother. Confined to a mobility scooter (‘like Dennis Hopper on Medicare’) and drunk on brandy, Charlie is a seductively irreverent narrator. Witty, wise, queer and possessed of a fierce social conscience, he revisits their parallel lives in a fluid monologue that’s as Beckettian as it is Steptoe and Son. Ware is refreshingly sharp on twin psychology: ‘I never believed I’d bury him. I’m older. Surely it should fall to you to bury me… No one wants to be last. We should have gone together… A plane crash.’’ —Jude Cook, The Spectator

‘When the tale opens, eighty-five year old Charlie is trying to put together a eulogy for JJ whose funeral is the next day. The writing style captures the voice of an elderly man whose body may be failing him but who is not yet ready to join his dead brother. They may have been identical twins but were also individuals. In telling their story the reader is reminded that socialism in Britain has always been multifaceted. The interweaving of countrywide and family politics is masterfully done.’ —Jackie Law, Neverimitate

‘Charlie’s narrative voice is dense and discursive, his recollections haphazard at times, but still sharp. It’s a voice that can weave together the personal, political and historical. As a result, the twins’ experiences reflect undercurrents that play out across broader society in the novel. It’s fascinating to read.’ —David Hebblethwaite, David’s Book World

‘If you’d told me I would have been riveted by a novel about mid-twentieth century housing before I’d read it, I might have been sceptical but then I’m someone who can’t seem to get enough of the minutiae of Danish politics portrayed in ‘Borgen’. Although it’s not mentioned in his novel, Ware chose to set it just days before the Grenfell Tower disaster. Five years later, its grim aftermath is still grinding on. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ —Susan Osborne, A Life in Books

Praise for Previous Work

‘Fleshing out the shadowy metaphysical hints of Beckett’s novels, this intellectual romp is the best debut I have read in years.’ —Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

‘Absent, slippery or suspect ‘facts’ are central to this unapologetically knotty novel.’ —Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

‘This ingenious novel succeeds in being both a highly readable story of second world war derring-do and its aftermath and a clever Celtic knot of a puzzle about writing itself… Just who is telling this story? There are different narrators, but verbal tripwires indicate that all is not as it seems: impossible echoes from one person’s account to the next alert us to the, yes, fictional nature of what we are being drawn into and pull us up short. The complexity of who saw what and wrote what is maddening but also exhilarating, and very funny in places.’ —Jane Housham, The Guardian

‘Whatever your tastes, Guy Ware is a writer whose name should be part of the contemporary literary discussion. His is a post-modernism that pushes the past into our increasingly confusing world.’ —Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, Byte the Book

Reconciliation opens with an intriguing apology by the author ‘for the extent to which my characters fail to resemble their real-life models’. This indicates a central concern of Guy Ware’s novel: namely, how the fiction writer appropriates ‘facts’ to create a story. It’s a preoccupation that informs the book’s highly original narrative structure … a memorable and inventive meditation on reconciliation, in the sense of both settling differences and squaring the facts.’ —Tom Williams, Literary Review

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