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Thursday, 20 December 2018


Anna Burns

Faber & Faber

The Man Booker Prize winner, 2018

In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes 'interesting'. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.
Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

Milkman is not the first major prize-winning book to attract widely differing opinions. In a not terribly scientific trawl through comments on Amazon, here's a flavour of what has been posted:

If you’re looking for a light entertaining read, pass this one by. Long rambling sentences with very few paragraph breaks call for high levels of concentration just to grasp some understanding of the narrative. I’ve struggled through the first 90 pages and am fighting the urge to give up on it. Story teller she ain’t!

This book must count as the most miserable, dull read I have ever attempted.

Terrible. The tone/language used is not at all recognisable as anything even remotely used in Northern Ireland. 

This book, I found confusing, the writing style so opaque I couldn't really get a handle on the story. It was as if it was trying really hard to be clever and use everything in your inventory- something's got to work! Well it didn't work for me- I almost gave up. Lost my interest and was a chore to finish- sadly.

It is vastly overlong with rolling paragraphs of irrelevance.

It didn't work for me with few chapters a total lack and use of paragraphs the whole experience was muddled and confused. If the intent of the author was to get inside the mindset of the politically deranged "Ulsterman" it failed miserably and was a great disappointment to me personally.

 It is boring because there is much repetition of situations and of the girl's thoughts and her behaviour. 

It’s a chore to read this book. The story is pedestrian and lacks any ability to draw you in.

I found this book tedious, repetitive and difficult to read. 

I have no idea how to describe this book – it is so strange and dystopian and hypnotising and scary and funny with heart full of black humour. Milkman is not an easy read, but it is good. It is quirky, strange and surprisingly delightful. Did I mention the sarcasm and black humour? In abundance!

I found this quirky novel just a delight. The warmth and humour balanced this account of the Troubles in 1970s Belfast.

The author enabled one to fully enter the life of a young woman living in a situation like Belfast. 

I loved this book. I loved the writing. It was beautiful, lyrical, poetic.

It is a wonderful, crazy, energising, funny, ultimately life affirming read. Brilliantly written, and because the characters don't have names, I found it easy to remember who was who.

One of the best books I’ve read in recent times. The narrative is so real, I felt I was in the Northern Ireland of the 70s and 80s. 

This just took my breath away. By far the best thing I have read in years.

And so on and so forth.

From the back cover, some other comments:

If somebody hands over their hard-earned cash to buy a book, they are entitled to their opinion. So, here's mine.

I started reading Milkman twice. The first time, about twenty pages in, I thought 'this is challenging me to find a rhythm' and I hadn't found it. So, I started again. A kind of rhythm began to emerge and, as is my wont, I read it in my native Belfast accent. The story began to flow. The humour was there. So was the intrigue and menace, the soul-searching, the claustrophobia and pressure of troubled localities, the powerful versus the powerless, the dividing lines, the thinking aloud. I could put faces to the unnamed characters, faces from my own circle growing up in Northern Ireland. I could hear voices from the city where I lived and worked until my early twenties. I grew into the narrative and I was more than happy to be swept along by imaginative and daring wordplay. This is quite unlike anything I have read before. Anna Burns, in my view, has invented a new style of writing. 

Yes, it is challenging and takes a bit of getting used to but it is nowhere near the impossible novel or improbable prize-winner that critics with negative views would have you believe. Like any book, you either get it or you don't. After my brief stumble when I first started reading Milkman, I found my way in and I'm glad I did.

It is a rollercoaster of just about every emotion you can think of. It reeks of honesty and is layered with light and dark humour. It is unsettling in parts, as was intended, but has a kind of uplifting ending.

The fact that Anna Burns hails from Northern Ireland makes me and a hell of a lot of other people proud.

This was an extract that cracked me up:

'Don't be thinking I'm not grateful because I am grateful.' After a pause brother-in-law said he was going to beat him (Somebody McSomebody) up all the same. 'Not necessary.' I said. 'Still,' he said. 'Ach,' I said. 'Ach nothing,' he said. 'Ach sure,' I said. 'Ach sure what?' he said 'Ach sure, if that's how you feel.' 'Ach sure, of course that's how I feel.' 'Ach, all right then.' 'Ach,' he said. 'Ach,' I said. 'Ach,' he said. 'Ach,' I said. 'Ach.'

For the readers who gave up on the book: 'Ach, catch yourselves on!

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