David Keenan's Troubles novel For the Good Times wins Gordon Burn prize

Judges salute a novel set in Belfast that ‘reveals truth about our recent history’

David Keenan’s For the Good Times, a book about Belfast and the Troubles that “reveals the truth about our recent history in a way documentary can’t”, has won the Gordon Burn prize.

Set up to honour the author Gordon Burn, who died in 2009, the award seeks to recognise “brilliant and unique work that audaciously dares to take both writer and reader to territories that shake their edges”. Burn’s works include Happy Like Murderers: The Story of Fred and Rosemary West, and the novels Fullalove and Born Yesterday: The News as a Novel. Organisers of the prize described For the Good Times as “very much in the sensibility” of Burn, who “often blurred the line between fact and fiction [and] explored murky and ambiguous territories”.

For the Good Times tells the story of Sammy, a footsoldier for the IRA in the months leading up to the hunger strike of 1981. It is set in the impoverished, predominantly Catholic Belfast area of Ardoyne, as Sammy and his friends dream of a free state.

Judge Miranda Sawyer said Keenan, whose novel beat titles including The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker’s reimagining of the Iliad, and Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker-shortlisted Girl, Woman, Other, was a worthy winner.

“We hear from Sammy in the Maze, as Bobby Sands is on hunger strike, and he tells tales about how he ended up there. But this is not a straightforward telling,” said Sawyer. “Keenan takes Sammy’s Troubles and turns them into a wild ride of hyper-violence, stupid consequences, comic-book heroes, fantasy women and bad paddy jokes. It’s about myth and war and masculinity and belief.”

The novel was “hallucinatory and fearless”, said Sawyer, and “revealed the truth about our recent history in a way that documentary can’t”.

Previous winners of the £5,000 Gordon Burn prize include Benjamin Myers, Paul Kingsnorth and Denise Mina.

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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