The Missing and the Lost

Celebrity and Politics in Gordon Burn's Born Yesterday

in Critical Survey
Author: Daniel Lea 1
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  • 1 Oxford Brookes University dlea@brookes.ac.uk
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Attempting to convey the experience of the present in all its seeming confusion and disorderliness is a challenge that pushes realist fiction to its limits. Gordon Burn's Born Yesterday (2008) is an ambitious attempt to concertina the space/time between event and representation by portraying the news items of the summer of 2007 with an immediacy rare in narrative fiction. Melding the structure of rapid, associative shifts common to 24-hour news presentation with the docu-realism of the non-fiction novel, Burn articulates the complex symbolic interactions that inform an aesthetic and cultural snapshot of the early twenty-first century. This essay explores the novel's portrayal of the mass mediatisation of contemporary British society and its blurring of the lines between fact and fiction. By comparing the quasi-celebrity attributed to the parents of the abducted child, Madeleine McCann, with the manipulation of the media employed during the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown exchange of power, the essay argues that the dominant logic of specular commoditisation goes hand in hand with the novel's focus on narratives of loss, abandonment, and emptiness.

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