Book Review: Repeat it Today with Tears – Anne Peile
(Serpent’s Tail) £10.99
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams
Occasionally, a book arrives in the post for review, that grips so tightly from an initial glance at the jacket blurb and the first line, that one reads it in a single sitting, straight from the Jiffy Bag, unable to tear oneself away, even if one should want to. Anne Peile’s debut novel, Repeat it Today with Tears, is one of those books.
Set in London in the early 1970s, and narrated by Susanna, a teenager who is studying for her ‘O’ levels, the book charts her search for the father she’s never known, the idealised figure who has been absent from her life, the part she needs to make her whole. When she discovers he is living within walking distance of her home in Clapham, across the river in Chelsea, she affects a meeting, but chooses to conceal her identity, and adding a startling rapier tip to the parrying straightforwardness of the book’s opening line, “The first time I kissed my father on the mouth it was the Easter holiday,” begins an affair with him. To borrow from King Lear, to which there are parallels, in that moment it is as clear to Susanna, as it is to the reader, that ‘that way madness lies’, but so engulfed is she, both by her love and her role, that she becomes both perpetrator and passenger, as ensnared in the tragedy that unfolds, as the reader is compelled to keep reading.
Repeat it Today with Tears is unsettling, not least in its examination of the fragility of boundaries and the close proximity of tipping points, between accepted mores and taboo, between sanity and insanity, between love and the (self-)harm, (self-)loathing, and destruction that can stem from its embrace. It is also an alluring and beautifully written book, with acutely well observed characters, from the protagonists to the vignettes, such as the women doing their laundry at the Nine Elms wash baths.
Peile’s evocation of London, and specifically Chelsea and the areas just south of the river, Battersea, Clapham, Wandsworth, in 1971/1972, is also wonderfully done. She creates a fascinating mix of teenagers and teenage fashion along the King’s Road, in and around the Great Gear Market, and their confluence with the older Chelsea set of artists and bohemians, then still prevalent in haunts such as the Picasso café and The Chelsea Potter pub. Set against the very different world, across the river, a world that had not changed so fast, though change was on its way, not least in the demolition clearing the site for the New Covent Garden market.
All in all, Repeat it Today with Tears is a phenomenally powerful debut novel, and highly recommended.