Top positive review
Well Worth Reading
19 October 2018
Anna Burns won the Booker with this, and it is easy to see why, and despite its subject matter, Northern Ireland and the Troubles in the Seventies, there is a lot of humour here. As the first author born in Northern Ireland to win the award this has beaten off over novels because it has that certain something that good Irish literature always has had, a humaneness and a way of not taking things too seriously, whilst showing us the absurdities of life.
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.