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Milkman Paperback – 20 Sep 2018
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A triumph of voice . . . darkly hilarious. (Justine Jordan Guardian BOOKS OF THE YEAR)
The narrator of Milkman disrupts the status quo not through being political, heroic or violently opposed, but because she is original, funny, disarmingly oblique and unique: different. The same can be said of this book. (Claire Kilroy Guardian)
Anna Burns is part of a movement of new and established female Belfast writers... along with Lucy Caldwell, Roisín O'Donnell, Jan Carson and others.
Kenneth Tynan pointed out that a good critic perceived what was happening but a great critic also saw what was not happening. In Belfast for many years there was a lot of not happening. The men of violence who launched the city's 30-year-long suicide attempt tried to silence the women who mocked them for their macho stupidity and faux intellectual posturing. The women were never silent but now thank goodness they are being published in increasing numbers.
Milkman is both a story of Belfast and its particular sins but it is also a story of anywhere. It reminded me of China Mieville's The City and the City where identity, names and seeing the Other are contentious acts. Milkman shares this level of ambition; it is an impressive, wordy, often funny book and confirms Anna Burns as one of our rising literary stars.
A darkly funny novel about Seventies Belfast that leaves words ominously unspoken. (Cal Revely-Calder Daily Telegraph)
From the outset, Milkman is delivered in a breathless, hectic, glorious torrent. The pace doesn't let up for a single moment.... Milkman can sometimes feel like a nerve-jangling reading experience; exhausting, even. Yet those who stick with Ann Burns' hectic, stream-of-consciousness writing, not dissimilar to that of Eimear McBride or Flann O'Brien, are more than rewarded.
Her writing has been described as "point-blank poetry", and rightly so. Her grasp on Middle sister's voice is so confident, and the textures of the environment, with its politics both big and small, are a thing to behold. It's an astute, exquisite account of Northern Ireland's social landscape, but Milkman is much more than that, too. It's also a coming-of-age story with flecks of dark humour, yet at other points it's a damning portrait of rape culture, and how women are often regarded in communities like this one. Because of this, Milkman is a potent and urgent book, with more than a hint of barely contained fury.
Profound, punchy, powerful prose... A tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness, it's thought-provoking stuff. (Sunday Telegraph, STELLA, Stella Loves)
Mercurial. Profound. Hilarious. Brilliant. I've been waiting for a book like this for thirty years. (Eoin McNamee)
'Original and thought-provoking. There have been many novels written about scarred post-Troubles Northern Ireland; I applaud Belfast-born Anna Burns for finding an insightful approach which frees it from the usual cliches and narratives. She avoids the weight-bearing vocabulary of her subject by setting Milkman in an unnamed city, divided by two tribes both bearing the brunt of an oppressive patriarchal regime.
Burns ingeniously draws comparisons between the hypocrisies and injustices of a sectarian society and the troubled and misunderstood experience of female adolescence. That she successfully tackles her serious mission with razor sharp wit, warm humour and great compassion is even more impressive. This one's a keeper.'(Big Issue)
Milkman is remarkable. A tale told by a voice that's utterly compelling and which you read with the feeling that you're being led down the darkest of rabbit holes. Irresistible and disturbing. (Jess Kidd)
I thought this was an incredible book and I'm still reeling from it. Anna Burns brilliantly mines the interstices of language to give articulation to the slippery machinations of prejudice and intimidation. She describes those things which are never normally described - those marginalised experiences created by insidious, corrosive and unnameable hurts... Her writing is uncompromising, powerful, essential. (Michele Forbes, author of Ghost Moth)
SHORLTISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 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.See all Product description
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All we know of our narrator is that this story happens when she is just eighteen, and that she is the middle sister in a large family, with her father dead, and her mother bringing up those children still at home, with the help of our narrator, and that the family are Catholic. This story very much feels like it is being spoken to us, and this comes across in the language, which at times is rather surprising, reminding me of the use made of language in The Sisters Brothers.
Taking us back to those bad old days of sectarian violence and people living in areas of their own religion, so this reminds us all of the police and army having to fight paramilitary organisations on both sides, and although at times there are shadows of this over the story, it has to be admitted that really there is not much actual violence in this book. Of age and with men interested in her so our narrator already has her maybe-boyfriend, but also two others after her affections, both seemingly being of the IRA. Of course no one knows if they really are, or if it is just rumours, and as we see here, there is a lot of gossip and rumours throughout the story, with people worried about what they do, who they associate with and where they go. Even going to hospital is a no-no for people in the area, in case you are approached and turned into an informer.
With this as a backdrop then, we have a tale that becomes at times extremely funny, with the men being scared of women as they break curfews or protest by sitting outside a safehouse, thus putting the terrorists in a sticky situation. With rumours circulating that maybe-boyfriend has a car part with a British flag on it, so he is in danger, and with Milkman harassing our narrator so we see that she could be in a dicey situation, but will things get any better?
With the narrator’s three wee sisters, who are all aged under ten we find ourselves really drawn to them, especially to the things they say and ask, and at times using quite complex vocabulary. With women holding a certain power that they don’t always use so we can see how the men, even hardened terrorists can be put in their place, and that life goes on even under rather harsh conditions.
In all then I absolutely love this book and am glad that it won, otherwise I probably would never have got around to reading it. This is something that should do well with book groups, and is a real joy to read, so if like me you love reading then you can’t really go wrong with this, and it is something that will stay in your mind long after you turn the last page.
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.
As usual, I did not read any reviews or synopsis before starting the book – and it took me until page 96 to realise... this is [Northern] Ireland! With all this talk about religion, a dozen of kids per household and occasional mention of bombings. And then there is our protagonist, 18-year old maybe-girlfriend of her maybe-boyfriend, sister to wee sisters and older sisters, daughter of Ma, student of French and an avid reader, also a love interest of some military guerrilla, aka Milkman.
"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 could not put it better than the Guardian: despite the surreality, everything about this novel rings true.
Reminded me of? At some point I thought of "1984".
Just adored it.