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Milkman (2018)

by Anna Burns

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1,2317110,942 (3.73)179
In Northern Ireland during the Troubles of the 1970s, an unnamed narrator finds herself targeted by a high-ranking dissident known as Milkman.
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» See also 179 mentions

English (66)  German (2)  Piratical (1)  Welsh (1)  All languages (70)
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
It's a challenging book. The stream of conscious takes off on tangents where you don't know when it will get back to the first part of the story. I was one for whom the non-specificity of the names and locations was perfectly fine. Indeed I thought that part tapped into the universality of the story. You knew it was the troubles in Ireland, but these type of situations happen all over the world. Her understanding of her situation grows as she realizes she has been trapped by the social forces and the conformity strictly enforced in the area. Too many ways to die, and too many people sacrificed in vain. The only thing the book needed was a bit of editing. This essentially dark tale was livened up with little bits of humor here and there. Definitely not for people who are interested in a straightforward narrative. ( )
  billycongo | Jul 22, 2020 |
I can't add much to what already has been said in other reviews on this site. My own reading experience was special, as I was initially unaware of the narrative's specific Northern Irish background. Burns also deliberately keeps everything vague: we never hear the name of the female narrator, we are not told any place names, and even all characters are referred to by nicknames such as "nuclear boy", "poison girl" and also "Milkman" himself. That is why I initially thought this was a dystopian story, along the lines of Kafka, Orwell and Atwood. It was only gradually that I realized that this novel actually referred to the period of the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.
Burns paints an oppressive picture of a polarized society with a hostile state authority (“from over the water”), paramilitary resistance groups that constantly carry out attacks and liquidations, secret renouncers and mafia-like characters, and above all an unspoken but very clear social code of honour. She also has put in a strong gender accent, because the narrator clearly outlines how much women are kept in a straitjacket in this society controlled by paranoid men.
The power of this novel is the very own voice of the 18-year-old storyteller who knows that - in order to survive - she absolutely has to stay under the radar, not stand out, but at the same time she is unaware that she’s doing just the opposite, namely by reading 19th century novels while walking on the street. It's a hilarious reference by Burns to the perverse power of literature in a dystopian society. By the way, humour and hilariousness are omnipresent in this book with numerous absurd scenes and dialogues that punctuate the extreme suspense that reign in this society. The language register of almost all characters also illustrates that: their tone is colloquial and folksy with a lot of slang, but almost constantly very expensive words are used and complex reasoning is set up. Also the performance of the narrator's younger sisters is such an ironic element, with their endearing affection, while at the same time they are reading books on, for example, quantum physics and Shakespeare's true identity.
On the other hand, there is the almost tangible threat posed by figures such as Milkman and SomebodyMcSomebody (another vague name) who both show an interest in our narrator (an interest that will radically change her social status in society). Through the verbal register of these characters, Burns manages to poignantly uncover the perverse side of power mechanisms, a real tour de force.
In short, this definitely is a brilliant novel, no doubt about it. Only, Burns does require quite a bit from the reader. I noticed that my reading speed was only a quarter of the normal, because the very complicated constructions and the constantly covered and explicit allusions put your vigilance on the test to the extreme. I do think that in the end this novel is a bit too elongated; with a shorter edition Burns could certainly have achieved the same effect. And the final chapter, after a few dramatic events, did disappoint me a bit. Burns seems to want to show too explicitly ways out of such a hopeless social situation (the power of sincere love, for example), which gives the end a slightly moralistic undertone. But don't worry, for once this book is a justified prize winner! ( )
  bookomaniac | Jul 11, 2020 |
It appears that people either loved this book or very much disliked it. I am in the latter camp. I found the characters hard to follow, the stream of consciousness difficult and consequently, the fabric of the novel disjointed. I found it to be a tedious read overall. Unfortunately, I don't give up on books. This was one I probably should have. ( )
  Mark.Kosminskas | Jul 10, 2020 |
Stunning book, and so evocative of the Belfast I got to know, just a little. Burns has a unique voice and is immediately riveting. But (honesty spoiler) I found that I just didn't want to be in this world -- so claustrophobic and damaging to the humans in it. I eventually skipped to the ending to almost an entire paragraph consisting of the work "Ach." Again, gorgeous, spot on, even hilarious, but like being locked in a very dark, musty closet on the Springfield Road. I'm very glad this book received such recognition (and was moved when the author said that the prize money would finally allow her to pay some overdue bills). In a way this reminded me of my brief fascination with John Hawkes - another completely unique, stunning writer who proved (for me) very hard to read. ( )
  MaximusStripus | Jul 7, 2020 |
Did not finish it - not captivating enough for my interest. ( )
  SashiG | Jul 2, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
Als Anna Burns 2018 für ihren Roman Milkman mit dem Man-Booker-Preis ausgezeichnet wurde, tobte das verbissene politische Ringen um eine harte oder grüne EU-Außengrenze zwischen Irland und Nordirland. Burns konnte, als sie mit dem Roman über Belfast in den 1970ern zur Zeit des Nordirlandkonflikts begann, nicht absehen, dass er ein Buch der Stunde würde. Die Angst, dass der EU-Austritt Großbritanniens alte Wunden aufbrechen lassen könnte, ist heute aber noch immer nicht ausgestanden.
 
The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died,” begins this strange and intriguing novel that tackles the Northern Ireland conflict from the perspective of an 18-year-old girl with no interest in the Troubles...Anna Burns, who was shortlisted for the Orange prize in 2002 with No Bones, which also depicted the Troubles, is excellent at evoking the strange ecosystem that emerges during protracted conflict – “this psycho-political atmosphere, with its rules of allegiance, of tribal identification...What starts out as a study of how things go wrong becomes a study in how things go right, and the green shoots are not the work of the paramilitaries. 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.
 

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For Katy Nicholson, Clare Dimond and James Smith
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The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died.
Quotations
In our district the renouncers-of-the-state were assumed the good guys, the heroes, the men of honour, the dauntless, legendary warriors, outnumbered, risking their lives, standing up for our rights, guerrilla-fashion, against all the odds.
Thing was, my growing suspicions of almost everyone and everything was proof of how the milkman had got in.
I thought he might be watching us, spying on us, perhaps taking secret pictures of us, and especially I'd be worried because he'd made his position clear on my dating maybe-boyfriend. Yet here I was, still dating maybe-boyfriend, which didn't mean, however, I'd dismissed that bomb threat.
I wasn't sure anymore what was plausible, what was exaggeration, what might be reality or delusion or paranoia.
So 'I don't know' was my three-syllable defence in response to the questions.
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In an unnamed city, middle sister stands out for the wrong reasons. She reads while walking, for one. And she has been taking French night classes downtown. So when a local paramilitary known as the milkman begins pursuing her, she suddenly becomes “interesting,” the last thing she ever wanted to be. Despite middle sister’s attempts to avoid him―and to keep her mother from finding out about her maybe-boyfriend―rumors spread and the threat of violence lingers. Milkman is a story of the way inaction can have enormous repercussions, in a time when the wrong flag, wrong religion, or even a sunset can be subversive. Told with ferocious energy and sly, wicked humor, Milkman establishes Anna Burns as one of the most consequential voices of our day.
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