31
Aug 03

There was a two-part doc on Channel 5

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 506 views

There was a two-part doc on Channel 5 which made a claim about them I didn’t remember, so I picked up Gordon Burn’s Happy Like Murderers: the True Story of Fred and Rosemary West again. I quite quickly remembered why I disliked it so much the first time: Burn borrows the device Emlyn Williams used so effectively in his 1967 Moors Murderers book Beyond Belief, and re-uses it, badly. Williams’s book is a collage of fact, guesswork, the cliched speech of the locality (working-class Manchester, 40s-60s) and snatches from pop songs; Burn’s book, three times as long, is the same. Williams has an exceptional ear, for how a shared phrase can speak utterly differently in different mouths: Burn turns the whole region (rural working-class Gloucester and environs, 40s-90s) into a featureless mulch. Williams gives a sense of a community, lively as well as limited, and what the killers – self-declared hipsters – shared with it and did to it. You slog through Burn’s overlong, disastrously organised book feeling that the author can’t and won’t distinguish between the Wests and the entire West Country all round them: that he’s indicting everyone equally, the time, the place, the police, the poor, caravans, immigrants, fashion, pornography, mankind. One reason for the difference may be this: Brady was a voracious reader, and therefore never so distant – in one sense – from any writer imagining his inner life; West was functionally illiterate (he could write, but only barely, and didn’t read). Which may make West far more alien to the book-proud than any of his crimes. Another reason may just be that Burn isn’t that good.

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