Milkman by Anna Burns

Wow. I mean “Wow!” Milkman is considered “experimental” and I think it is really what with the lack of character and setting names plus stream of consciousness approach. But it worked for me and apparently the Man Booker judges as well because it won the biggie! And it totally deserved it. 

I was a bit hesitant to buy into the hype (and it got lots of glorious reviews) because that sometimes leads me to expect too much from a novel and then I’m disappointed. But I hadn’t completely bought into the hype on this so I ended up being wonderfully well surprised by the enjoyment and quality Banks provided. – That’s just how I am, better off if I don’t expect a whole lot.

by Anna Burns
2017 / 360 pages (paperback) 
read by Brid Brennan – 14h 11m
rating: 9.6 


Although the unnamed first-person narrator lives an unnamed city in an unnamed country it’s obviously Northern Ireland but Burns has said she wanted it to be someone allegorical rather than history -specific. The time is one of high tensions and a disgust for the land “across the sea” so that’s likely going to set off Belfast in the reader’s mind. Ireland had serious troubles in the 1970s. 

The characters are referred to by the relationship to the narrator or the others in the story. There’s “third sister,” and “brother-in-law,” and “almost-boyfriend” plus Ma and of course Milkman and many others. Sometimes little groups have names, “wee sisters.” 

This is not really a historical novel as such because the dates and places are never specifically stated. Burns has said she was thinking more of an allegory when she wrote it. And she said that the novel’s characters just didn’t need names. 

The themes are more important and they deal with what happens to relationships in those kinds of times which are full of fear and suspicion and tear neighborhoods apart. There are women’s issues and LGBT issues and political issues and general gossip issues – this poor narrator is witness to lots of issues and she’s trying to stay low and out of it. 

I both read and listened and if you happen to listen, the reader, Brid Brennan. is absolutely fabulous. I’d still say you need the book though because it’s very complex and subtle and sometimes the words get confused, like “wee sisters” sounds like “we sisters.” 

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3 Responses to Milkman by Anna Burns

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    I had the same issue with Don de Lillo’s Falling Man. I couldn’t make sense of it as an audio book and borrowed the print edition as well, reading them contemporaneously so that they complemented each other.


  2. DebraB says:

    I’ve heard quite a bit about this book. I’m going to have to read it soon!


  3. Carmen says:

    I think the stream of consciousness would be off-putting, for me at least, but you are the second blogger I follow that has been wowed by this book. Maybe I’ll consider reading it after all. 😉


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