Gordon Burn - Born Yesterday (5 stars)

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Gordon Burn

(Faber)

NOVELISED HISTORY

Having dabbled in the world of real life Manchester United legends in Best and Edwards and fictionalised the stories of semi-real boxers and comedians for The North England Home Service, Gordon Burn’s latest, the ‘News as a Novel’ has haunting echoes of his masterpiece, Happy Like Murderers, the decade-old forensic analysis of Fred and Rosemary West. Taking the headlines of last summer (the floods, the return of foot and mouth, Madeleine McCann, Blair’s handover to Brown and the attack on Glasgow Airport), Burn weaves a blistering narrative which somehow finds curious connections among his ‘characters’ and uncanny reverberations between events. Sticking himself in there as a subject should jar a little, but has the effect of glueing the puzzle perfectly into place while drawing its own comparisons with Norman Miller, the investigative hack in Burn’s superb novel Fullalove.

Burn drops a hint in the acknowledgments that writing such a contemporaneous book has the danger of running out of date very rapidly with so many of its individuals jumping in and out of the papers and bulletins. Even with the tale’s completion in February, he could well have used the March updates on many of his subjects (the ‘fake’ smear on Smeato; the judge’s verdict on the Mills-McCartney divorce wrangle; the front-page tabloid apologies to the McCanns) while the shock discovery of Shannon Matthews is pure Burn territory. Though in fairness, there seems nothing that this astute writer couldn’t turn his hand to, with such precise insight and devastating skill at his disposal.

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