THE CUT-OFF point at which 'the past' is deemed too recent to evoke nostalgia appears to have shifted. These days, pop songs from 2000 make the playlist of radio's 'golden olhe' hours. And retrospective television shows run archive footage from the late Nineties. Where will it end? Or perhaps I am just being nostalgic for a time when the objects of our nostalgia were, well, less modern - complaining, in effect, that nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Yet, surely, there needs to be a distance between 'then' and 'now' for nostalgia to be meaningful? How can we be wistful for the way things were if the way things were is pretty much how they still are? But, as Gordon Burn illustrates in his new novel, nostalgia isn't really about historical transition, or even about rose-tinted views of days gone by. It is to do with current disappointment. Nostalgia, like homesickness, he says, 'is never about the past but about felt absences or a sense of something lacking h the present'.
The North of England Home Service is Burn's first novel for seven years, since Fullalove. And it hardly seems possible that his debut, Alma Cogan, won the Whitbread First Novel Prize as long ago as 1991 - the year, incidentally, in whch Fredde Mercury died, the Beirut hostages were released,