Gordon Burn allows both Margaret Thatcher and Paul Gascoigne to make fleeting cameos in his new novel
Gor on’s win
When newspaper editors want an essay about the great British murder, they turn to GORDON BURN. They needn’t bother: he’s far too busy writing great bOOkS. Words: Brian Donaldson
o my left. perched at the end of a wooden garden table. is a lllllll
li'nus' (/e .lIr/n. naked and disfigured with its bum pointed towards
my face. 011 my right is an author best known for writing books about women (and some children) who haye had their clothes remoy ed before having horrid. unspeakable things done to their bodies.
For just over a decade. (iot‘don Burn has written exocatiyely in realms both factual and fictional about llindlcy and Brady (xi/mu ('(iuriiii. l’eter Sutcliffe (Some/un/y's Hus/mm]. .S'riiirr'lirirli"_s Soul and lired and Rosemary West (Happy Like .llmz/mw-yi. liy'en a non-homicidal subicct such as Damien llirst (0n the llil_\' Io ll'or/t'). the father of Burns godchild. has been known to indttlge in a hit of slicing and dicing in his time.
Burn‘s reputation for being .\lr 'l'rue (‘rinie l'ls' has been such that he would be contacted by featttre editors wlieneyer the ne\t great British murder came along. The day after Barry (ieorge was conyicted for the slaying of Jill Dando. he posted a stirring piece of iottrnalism in Ha (mun/[rm about the y'oy'etiristic ('rimewulr/I cttlture that surrounded the blonde prescnter’s carefree life and hellish death. But when the call has since come for him to act as rent-an-essay on the likes of Sliipinan and Soham. he has begun to learn the word ‘no‘.
‘I can say categorically that I will ney'er eyer do another true crime book. No provisos. .\'o.' says Burn. Very much sounding like he means it. in the beer garden of the (‘helsea :\l'ts ('entre. "l‘he West c\hct'icncc was so horrible and wearing and tiring. What happened there was just more grotesque and gruesome than you could eyer hay e imagined. Before I got into the book. I decided that l was going to make it a totally unespurgated. totally explicit. no censorship thing. But in the end I did censor because much of it was just so horrible and so unprintable; somewhere along the line ljust thought you can't go past a certain placef
Happy like .lllll‘l/(‘IZ’I'S had many critics spewing with fury. \Vhat riled them the most was the [one of the book (the distant and factual style was little waming that your nerves were about to be punctured by the enyeloping horror). Maybe the critics would haye wished for a tnore simplistically sensationalist take rather than Burn's measured. methodical. tightly structured narrative. The recttrrence of phrases about the bodies’ diseoyery (‘l.ucy Panington's remains were found in the cellar of 25 ('romw ell Street at nine o‘clock on Sunday morning. (y March IOU-1') and the helter skelter journey into the minds of the Wests and their Victims made 'lrue ('rime into Real An. But it certainly never masked the atrocities that took place in the bltmd-drenched rooms of 25 (‘romwell Street.
The experience of researching. intery'iewing and writing Happy Lilw .lIun/on'rx had several knock-on effects for Burn. for the IS months after he ﬁnished the book in 1998. he was bereft of energy. suffering from bouts of idea block and generally feeling pretty down. And to make matters less easy. the calls continued wheney'er the banner headlines were lilled by the
/. '.' :. .' - THE LIST 13