Wednesday, November 14, 2018


Milkman by Anna Burns
Graywolf Press: 12/04/18
eBook review copy; 360 pages
ISBN-13: 9781644450000

Milkman by Anna Burns is the recommended winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize.

The Milkman is set in an unnamed city in Northern Ireland in a city under siege during the "troubles." The story is told over several months through and narrated by an 18 year-old unnamed character. She is trying to avoid the unwanted sexual attention and intimidation of a paramilitary figure known as the Milkman. She is trying to avoid him, but she is already standing out due to her reading while walking and taking a French night class. All she wants is to keep on with her quiet life, reading while walking, running, and seeing her maybe-boyfriend. Now the Milkman's unwanted attention has made her the target of rumor and gossip and has, perhaps, also made her a target of surveillance.

Burns does an excellent job setting the novel in a specific place and during a specific time. She also excels at capturing the attitudes of the people living during the time of the troubles and the oppression and rules they follow in order to go on and try to lead ordinary lives. There are poetic moments buried in the rather dense prose which consists of some of the narrator's ordinary activities but mostly covers her inner, introspective thoughts and musings. There is a lot of repetition and examination of a situation from different angles.
This was a challenging read for me, and not entirely enjoyable. Part of the challenge is the lack of names, any names. Instead of names you have middle sister, older sister, third sister, maybe-boyfriend, third brother-in-law, nuclear-boy, Somebody McSomebody, the wee ones, longest friend from primary school, etc., etc..  As with other reviewers, the many many times these characterization-names were repeated began to grate after so many times. I'm glad I read it, but it was a chore to finish the novel.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

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