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Gordon Burn

Gordon Burn won a Whitbread award for his first novel Alma Cogan.

Where mine is at

Gordon Burn, 28 May 1992

When Robert Stone’s best-known novel, Dog Soldiers, was published in 1974, there was a small but significant overlap of material with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s souped-up, superheated journalistic account of the beginnings of the counterculture, published six years earlier. The coincidence of material was in many ways inevitable. Stone had been part of the California bohemian underground grouped around the ‘drug apostle’, Ken Kesey, and his acid-snaffling followers, the Merry Pranksters; and Stone both figures in the narrative of Acid Test and is acknowledged by Wolfe in his Author’s Note: ‘There were several excellent writers, in addition to Kesey, who were involved in the Prankster saga … Robert Stone told me a great deal about Kesey’s fugitive days in Mexico.’

Journal-writing and diary-keeping are a kind of secret exhibitionism, the genteel equivalent of scrawling on lavatory walls. This seems to be the message of ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Up-harsin,’ one of John Cheever’s loopy, luminescent, triumphant later stories. The narrator, returning to America after a long absence, enters a stall in the men’s room at Grand Central Station, and there, etched into the marble partition (‘it might have been a giallo antico, but then I noticed Paleozoic fossils beneath the high polish and guessed that the stone was madrepore,’ Cheever notes in an uncharacteristic piece of shake-it-for-the-world High Bellowesque omniscience), he finds not the spurting pricks and lewdnesses he was expecting, but ‘organised into panels, like the pages of a book’, passages that might have been lifted from the commonplace-books and journals of his neighbours in the well-heeled, well-lit suburbs of upstate New York.

Gordon Burn

Theo Tait, 5 June 2008

Gordon Burn’s work takes place at a point where fact and fiction, public events and private lives, fame and death all meet. He began his career as a proponent of the non-fiction novel...

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Fred and Rosemary West

John Burnside, 10 December 1998

Although it sets out to explore the lives of Fred and Rosemary West – along with Peter Sutcliffe, the most notorious figures in recent British criminal history – Happy like Murderers...

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Howl

Adam Mars-Jones, 21 September 1995

When novelists tell us that the world is made of God’s love or the same green cheese as the moon, we expect them to dramatise their perception – to force their philosophy on us as a...

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Wallflower

Anthony Quinn, 29 August 1991

The heroine of Lucy Ellmann’s new novel is one of an increasingly rare breed in modern fiction – a virgin. Isabel is a thirty-something art history student, prim, gauche, improbably...

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Fallen Women

Patricia Highsmith, 21 June 1984

Gordon Burn gives us no comment of his own on the story he has to tell – just the facts: no speculation as to why Peter Sutcliffe behaved as he did, just the events, the family life,...

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