Peterdown, David Annand, book review: ‘Captivating parable about how we understand place’

Peterdown‘s protagonists fight to protect two places they hold dear amid plans for a highspeed rail line

The planning process might seem an unlikely theme for an epic novel about the soul of contemporary Britain, but life in gentrifying Hackney quite possibly inspired debut novelist David Annand to take up the challenge.

The result is 600-page Peterdown, a captivating parable about how we understand place.

Colin is from the fictitious post-industrial Midlands town that gives the novel its title and its setting; he works as a sports journalist for the local paper and is an ardent supporter of Peterdown United Football Club.

His partner Ellie is a Highgate born-and-bred architect who dreams of moving to Somerset, Devon or London, when she’s not preparing gourmet food or making acid comments about others’ tastes.

Thrown together by the accidental conception of their daughter Daisy nine years previously, theirs is a union of the tribes that David Goodhart calls ‘somewheres’ and ‘anywheres’.

When plans for a highspeed rail line require land to be found for a station, the two most likely spots are the Chapel, Peterdown United FC’s stadium, and the Larkspur, a decrepit neo- brutalist housing estate designed by Ellie’s architectural guru.

Colin mobilises football supporters to protect the stadium, while Ellie engages the help of the local MP and his London connections to campaign for the preservation of the estate.

Tempers flare as the local mayor labels the activists the ‘Keep Peterdown Crap Brigade’ (an oblique reference to former Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe’s analogous comments about his bailiwick?). And though both projects get entangled in unforeseen obstacles, Colin and Ellie are themselves reshaped by their endeavours.

Annand’s narrative speaks volumes about how culture configures our relationship to physical space. Though there are no harmonious resolutions to big questions of who and where, their exploration in Peterdown makes for engrossing reading.

Peterdown by David Annand is published by Corsair, ISBN: 978-1-4721-5585-6; RRP: £16.99.