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About four years ago a wordy broadsheet sent anonymous text exerts from 10 Booker Prize and Orange Prize for Fiction winning books to Britain's supposedly top ten publishers. All but one rejected the text as not good enough. Clearly it's being known and connected and not talent that gets books noticed and published these days and its authors like Gordon Burn who benefit from that lazy ignorance. If this guy is one of Britain's best writers then I'm William Shakespeare!
The dust-cover describes this book as the 'news as a novel', the author Gordon Burn attempting to weave major factual events from the British summer of 2007 into the loosest of stories - and with no identifiable characters or narrative in the book it's a tough read let me tell you. I only stuck with it as it did cough up some intriguing facts and figures, especially on the McCann's and New Labor, the only chicken on the bone here.
To me this is a pretentious rant by someone as angry and cynical as many of us at his middle age and if he was writing on dooyoo he would have been kicked off by now. He wanted to have his say on this decaying country and New Labor and the real reason this rather tedious 200 pager got published and on the shelves was because the author is a big cheese in the British literary world and has enough clout and kudos to achieve that, whatever the subject.
Its central premise is that there's some sort Catholic hierarchy in the UK and it exerts its power when one of their more important brethren is in trouble, in this case the McCann's. If the McCann's were working class like the Mathews family I'm sure they would be now anguishing in some stingy Portuguese jail by now and this book wouldn't have been written - and the latter wouldn't have been a bad thing if I'm honest. The reason they are not in jail-according to Burns-is because they are middle-class Catholics, all very Opus Deim...DaVinci Code conspiracy stuff ...
The McCann's drama has been by far the most intriguing news story since Diana's car crash and that I would agree with Burn. Most people didn't want to believe two respectable neveau middle-class doctors would ever harm their kids, let alone conceal the crime. Most of those people who did think the MaCanns would leave their kids alone and go and out and get drunk were probably sniping from experience, and if the MaCanns had just admitted to neglect back then, then we could have all moved on, including the Portuguese police. But they didn't and here we are a year on, Kate and Jerry refusing to go back to Portugal to do a police reconstruction, reinforcing the feeling with some people that they may have had something to do with the disappearance. I don't personally think they did kill the child and the police investigation was driven by a wave of people's paranoia's and need to be cynical over seeing any actual evidence from the Portuguese coppers, again another point made in the book.. We would much rather believe incompetent foreign cops with big bellies and big mustaches bungled than the alternative. Yes Kate washed little Cuddle Cat (it's a brand name) when the police made them suspects, but wouldn't you if you felt a foreign police force was trying to frame you because your highlighting their incompetence all around the world? Our only suspicions on this case are based on the information we are getting through the agenda ridden media, and not until a German journalist asked them if the McCann's if they were involved did the world let out a sigh of relief so we could argue the case from the other side of the fence. The world media loved that German journalist as they could now sell millions of paper on the case for the prosecution.
The McCann's got the benefit of doubt on this case because they weren't working class (but born from good working class stock) and so couldn't possibly have done it because they don't normally do these things like this, the recent Mathews affair in Dewsbury highlighting the people that do statistically abuse children. The McCann's are guilty of covering up their neglect but not of murder and conspiracy. We know how bad the world is behind the curtains because we are collectively doing those terrible things and so its inevitable we don't trust them to be honest.
I am in agreement with the author on being cynical about the whole media contradiction around the case. The McCann's used the media they had surprisingly good access to, to help try and find little Maddie, but sued when the same media turned the lens on them when the police seem to have a case of criminality. Did you know Jerry is high up in sports medicine and top footballers from Manchester United are patients of his surgery...even Beckham? Author Burns is making a strong point here that those tabloids had to publicly apologize to the McCann's because of the couples growing Catholic celebrity clout and televisusal appeal, rather than their proven innocence. A named person in the book seemed to have made calls to the Pope to get that blessing and meeting the McCann's had with his holiness, leaving their twin kids behind, of course. These trips in the infamous hire car were supposedly the time they dumped the body. Prominent Catholic figures in Browns government and business friends put up large sums of money to fight their case. Quite unbelievably, the MaCanns used that money to hire the same legal firm that got Chris Langhams prison sentence reduced for pedophilia charges! Did they employ them because of that or were they not aware. This is one couple that looks aware. Even more intriguingly one of the so-called 'Tapaz Seven', the group on mass refusing to go back to Portugal to do a reconstruction of the' 'abduction', was a prominent doctor of genetics on DNA traces at crime scenes. Make of that what you wish. Because the MaCanns have also refused to go, in fear of being stitched up by what they say are incompetent coppers, the same Iberian 'rossers' have hit back by releasing evidence of the case relating to Jerry McCann receiving 18 text messages from an unknown person, in the 18 hours before and after the abduction. The sheep that believe the news will now say it was Maddies abductor calling them, where as the shrewd will maybe see Jerry has been having a bit-on-the-side, and the releases of this sensitive information is designed to drive a wedge between the couple to see if they crack. Again, this isn't in the book and yet you probably don't know about it, which proved Burns point that we only receive stories in the mainstream media when it suits their agenda that sells stories, especially on the well-heeled and celebrities..
Usually I would do an overview of the plot here but there isn't one, even though the book is in the fiction section, the narrative an essential part of any story. Like I said this reading experience is more about the authors take on the world and how the mass media irritate him just as much as it does us. I suppose it's more of a writers angry view on his country, how media speculation from a hundred tabloids and reporters, and the gossip they deliberate create and cajole in the public arena, some how become blurred, and those false truths are born. But, then again, Burn is part of that machine with books like this and maybe this is yet more propaganda on behalf of his chosen political alliance. Or as JG Ballard said:' we like to emerge ourselves in the most destructive elements of the new media and swim with our hearts content' .We like to think the worse of people because we do the same things.
Our unknown narrator (presumably the writer) begins the journey with a decrepit Margaret Thatcher wandering around a London Park with her minders, observed by the parks professional dog walkers, the inclement summer of 2007 hammering down on her like her truncheons did the miners.
We then some how move on to Tony Blair, the irony his superdooper imported armored car (presumably to protect him for the rising immigrant crime and terror threat) had three immigrants hiding in the boot when it arrived. There are lots of these metaphors in the book. The cruelty and supreme ironies of politics are its attractions...
The Blair legacy in the book seems to be lots of empty houses, Burns going into great detail on the Blair's constituency house up north (the one he apparently couldn't afford to pay his electricity bill on) and its terrorist protection and its apparent anonymous location. Again I'm not really sure how this is relevant to anything but that's what this book is made up of... little bits stuck together... Blair also has a reserved suit at Israel's nicest hotel, supposedly the base for his job as the rather grandiose International Ambassador to the Middle East.
We then move on to GB, Gordon Brown, and his and TB`s relationship, seemingly a contest of who can pull the silliest grin on TV, which soon became a grimace. We then draw comparisons with David Smeaton, the now not so brave Scottish airport worker that tackled the terrorists at Glasgow Airport and became an international celebrity. Although not in the book, it turns out Smeaton had 'exaggerated' his heroics and didn't really save the day. Burns pushes appoint that Brown couldn't wait to jump in behind this new Scottish hero, the Glasgow attack just 72 hours into the job, the brave Jocks saving the day. But again I just don't see any connection there. Like I said this book is a real muddle.
The floods are also laced into the books increasingly weak tapestry. Here Burns points out a racist incident where the local Asian cash n carry's sold pretty much all their bottled water to the borough council emergency team in Gloucestershire as water supplies were cut to thousands of households and businesses. As the water was handed out by the same team the same Asian shop keepers were loading up their cars with all this free bottled water, which, apparently, they were taking back to the cash n carry and corner shops to resell. The same people were accused of sabotaging and emptying water bowsers as the cost of bottled water trebled as the rain kept falling. Now I noticed this at the time on newscast and when I was in the county, covering a cricket match, clearly a few people were seething over it. But if you're an international writer of acclaim writing a very muddled book you can jimmy this stuff in and get it off your chest that way, which he seems to do throughout the book. This clearly wasn't the British sense of fair play in the SW though.
This book is a mess, a respected author having mid-life crisis on paper. There's zero story here and there is no 'novel from the news' here. What there is a justification here only the author really understands and the type of read only snobby book clubs and literary writers would talk up, 'normal' people unable to understand or comprehende.Well I'm normal and this book is abject nonsense, although I defend the right to the author to get his feelings out on things like the McCann's and New Labors spin in the news. But I just didn't get what he was trying to do and how he thinks this is interesting, linking a series of events that aren't really linked. Does he have something against the Catholics? Is he angry that he knows doctors form the background he comes from can do terrible things that we all do and, like him, are given an easy ride in life because they are white-collar professionals on these things and events.
Yes there are a few hidden inside gems on the McCann's, like that lawyer fact, and I think its fair to say the revelation that Gerry may have a lover will be stage three of this enthralling news story. With another soggy summer on the way there maybe a sequel in it for Gordon Burn. But next summer I won't be sitting on the park reading it. I deliberately steer away from books like this as I find them too pretentious and alienating, like Stephen Fry's books, intellectuals trying to patronize the reader with long words and pithy paragraphs. But the biggest problem with this book is he was preaching to the converted, and to anyone else who picks it up his extreme cynicism will certainly turn people off reading this. If I was writing this I would have written much tougher commentary on the modern media and certainly look to expose the culprits, which this book doesn't do. This is one difficult and obfuscating book. This why I don't read these books and prefer the Dan Browns of the world. Why should things be over complicated when they are really that simple?