Why it’s right that a Jimmy Savile biography won this year’s Gordon Burn prize

Rejected by publishers until after Savile’s death, Dan Davies’s In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile is a courageous account – Burn would have applauded it

The Gordon Burn prize was set up in the wake of the premature death in 2009 of one of the most original and fearless British authors of his generation, a visionary literary figure with an intuitive understanding of our hidden dreams and nightmares. Burn’s writing on art, music, celebrity, sport and crime, as well as his fiction, is becoming more relevant by the day.

On Friday, this year’s prize was awarded in Durham town hall to Dan Davies for In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile, his portrait of a man who will surely haunt generations to come. I remember taking Davies’s book proposal forward as an editor at Faber in 2009, and there being incredulity at these allegations about a celebrated public figure.

The book wasn’t taken on by any publisher until after Savile’s death, and it came out from Quercus last year. I think this is a subject that Burn (several of whose books I worked on at Faber) would have embraced with courage. He was never afraid of going to the dark places in our collective psyche.

Savile understood that the entertainment business in the 20th century was an acceleration towards image, and that if the image is grotesquely compelling enough it will hide a multitude of sins. Davies exposes the gruesome reality behind the image. His book is a fitting winner of a prize that Burn’s widow, Carol Gorner, Faber and New Writing North set up to keep his legacy alive.

Lee Brackstone

The GuardianTramp

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