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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alma Cogan,
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This review is from: Alma Cogan (Paperback)
Alma Cogan actually died in the early sixties, but this book takes as the premise that she lived on into obscurity. This is an extraordinary look at what comes after fame and how to cope with both sides of the coin. Mixed up with Alma's search for herself are highlighted trips to look at her portrait, her clothes in museums and a visit to a scary and obsessive fan who does not seem to see that Alma herself is the person he is obsessed with. Mixed in with Alma's story is the search for Keith Bennett's body, making this is an even more unsettling read. Gordon Burn is a horribly under rated author who does not get the acclaim he deserves. This book is an absolute masterpiece.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both sad and uplifting, but with moments of real horror,
From the start it's clear that this is unlikely to be a conventional or predictable text, either in its content or its structure. On the front cover of my copy is the stylised representation of Alma Cogan's face taken from the cover of an issue of `Fans Library', a 1950s magazine. Adjacent to it, the face of Myra Hindley, the colours bizarrely transposed - purple hair, orange face.
Alma Cogan, who I can just remember from the black and white television of my childhood, was one of Britain's most popular stars of the 1950s. She was known as `the girl with a chuckle in her voice', wore extravagant self-designed dresses and, after a final hit record in 1961, was swept into semi-obscurity by the raucous explosion that was the Beatles, the Stones and the rest of them. She died in 1966 at the age of 34.
Except that, in Gordon Burn's novel, she didn't. Here, Alma Cogan is looking back on her life, on her years in and then subsequently out of the limelight, from a standpoint in 1986.
Straight away I had some worries and reservations about the appropriation of a `real life' figure for novelistic purposes, much in the same way, I suppose, as those recently unsettled by David Peace's fictionalising of Brian Clough's brief spell of command at Leeds United. Added to that, the cover's heavy hint that the Moors Murderers were to be somehow woven into the narrative seemed discomforting and heavy with sensationalism and exploitation.
However, Gordon Burn's prose is superb and drew me into a suspension of my concerns. The `Alma Cogan' he creates here clashed terribly with my preconceptions and assumptions about a dimly-remembered figure from what, despite my better judgement, I continued to see as a simpler and more straightforward era. His creation, certainly not the `bubbly airhead' of my rememberings, seemed to have taken herself off in the interim to an Open University degree in semiotics or cultural studies. The novel helped me suspend my initial disbelief and warm to this person who had adjusted in her later years of faded celebrity to a life of pragmatism and ordinariness, somebody able to appreciate both the psychological and physiological rush created by fame, and the tawdry, cynical and sometimes violent manipulations of a ruthless media industry. Burn's Alma proves to be an observant and insightful guide, puncturing the facade of mass entertainment's bonhomie and worthy proclamations and the ugly conspiracies between providers and gluttonous consumers, while still retaining sympathetic affection for the human need for dreams and fantasy. As the novel moves to its unsettling and deeply distressing climax, where the atrocities of the Moors Murderers are fashioned into an awful link to the main narrative, I found myself profoundly discomforted and chilled, in a way that few books, if any, have affected me.
In summary, I ended up finding this book, which I hadn't expected to enjoy, immensely impressive. The conceit of extending the life and career of a real celebrity works brilliantly in that `Alma Cogan' was already a creation of the nascent advertising and publicity industries. By emphasising further the fabrication, Burns brilliantly illuminates the collusion that we, `the public', volunteer ourselves for. A sad, uplifiting, observant tale with moments of real horror that have continued to haunt this particular reader.
12 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Burn burns darkly,
Gordon Burn is probably unique.
Not an easy phrase to throw around, is it? We live, I fear, in a world where 'awe' and 'splendour' is all too simple to achieve and compartmentalise. Mundane products are advertised with grandiose soul stirring taglines. The world, as David Thewlis's character in 'Naked' says, has been explained to us, and we're bored with it. Consequently, to sell anything to anyone, we are promised The Experience Of A Lifetime (TM) regardless of whether we're talking a new car, a pair of sunglasses or the latest Pizza Hut pizza.
Gordon Burn, you can tell, doesn't agree with that. All his stuff says; Yeah? You reckon we're so great? Well just take a little look through this hole and then tell me what you think. He gives us a torch with dodgy batteries and chucks us head first into the dark, and lets us piece it all together slowly, languidly, with (as in Happy Like Murderers) seemingly mundane detail, until we have everything and just as we begin to put the bits together, the torch begins to flicker, and...
Alma Cogan takes a bold step forward into a fully realised fantasy world of alternative history and exposes the fickle nature of fame for a long-departed, nearly-forgotten star. The ending creeps up with superb tension and desperate ugliness.
No-one who reads Hello! or OK! has ever read this book.
As I say, the man's a genius.
4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faded celebrity at its best,
This review is from: Alma Cogan: A Novel (Hardcover)
The tie-up with Myra Hindley is perhaps a bit sensationalist. But as a study of faded celebrity this book has no equal. It's pretty good too at depicting an intelligent woman who's become a star in the innocent 1950s realising that a darker period in social mores is about to begin.
3 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy like Murderers,
this is a fantastic indepth history of Fred and Rosemary West. it contains not only many facts about the couple, but also their victims and their historys. many of these facts I have not read any where else. a thoroughly recommended read.
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Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn (Paperback - 4 Mar 2004)