*Just a gentle note, this review may contain small spoilers*
Of course, Milkman. This year’s winner of the Man Booker by Anna Burns. Sales have rocketed, everyone’s grabbing a copy, everyone’s got an opinion and everyone has fallen in love with Anna Burns herself. But first, what’s it all about? Well, here’s the synopsis:
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.
Sounds a bit ambiguous doesn’t it? It doesn’t give anything away but just enough to intrigue you. There has been a lot of debate and discussion of whether this book isn’t accessible and is hard to read. I think it’s a bit over-the-top to be honest and how can you say what a book will be like for a reader? We are all different and that means with books too. Yes, the chapters are long but I think that works for this book overall. For me, I did find it hard to get into at first but with the strength of Anna Burn’s wonderful writing and characterisation, you get hooked immediately. That’s what I found: it was getting used to the narrative voice, the story, the characters, the ambiguity… but once you get into it and get used to it all, it’s a brilliant read.
I’ve never read anything from Anna Burns before but I always said that whoever wins the Booker, I’ll get it and read it. Before starting Milkman, I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting. It’s not a difficult read, it’s a hard one, but not a difficult one. Anna Burns has a wonderful way of writing. From the off, the narrative voice is different, original, and very very funny. SO funny! There are moments where it’s literally laugh-out-loud funny. There are no names to the characters in the book, just ‘maybe-boyfriend, ‘Somebody McSomebody’, ‘Milkman’, etc. I found this really interesting. Names are really important, aren’t they? Especially in literature and characters. A name is your identity and who are you without that? I think that’s really important, especially given the setting and the story of the novel.
As I’ve said, Anna Burns is a wonderful and beautiful writer. There are so many passages I could use for an example but one I really loved and connected with was of the sunset. Especially with the gorgeous front cover of the sunset too. I loved this bit:
As for this sky, it was now a mix of pink and lemon with a glow of mauve behind it. It had changed colours during our short trip along the corridor and before our eyes was changing colours yet. An emerging gold above the mauve was moving towards a slip of silver, with a different mauve in a corner drifting in from the side. Then there was further pinking. Then more lilac. Then a turquoise that pressed clouds – not white – out of its way. Layers were mixing and blending, forming and transforming which was exactly what happened during that sunset a week earlier…
I just love that – the colours, the sentence structure, and the sunset, for me, is a huge metaphor(?) for the overall book. Sunsets are about transformation, from one thing to the next and I think that’s good for the novel’s characters and themes.
There’s great themes and ideas at play in this novel: society, rumour, addiction, mental health, relationships, family, sexuality, masculinity, violence, political divides, etc. Anna Burns really is a wonderful writer and I think she has crafted a world that is full and rich of material and textures. The only downside for me is that it does drag a bit in the end and I would have liked something a bit ‘more’ at the end but overall, I loved this book. Way more than I thought I would. Like I said, it’s a hard read but not a difficult one. It’s accessible, it’s brilliant, it’s got wonderful writing, a real and brilliant narrator, and it’s hilarious in the darkest of moments. It’s a book that I’m not going to forget in a hurry…
Have you read Milkman? What did you think of it? Did you enjoy it? Let me know!
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