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Milkman

(20 customer reviews)

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by Anna Burns

Synopsis

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

“Everything about this novel rings true. . . . Original, funny, disarmingly oblique, and unique.”—The Guardian

In an unnamed city, the 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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About this book

466 Pages
10 - 11 Hours to read
126k Total words

Description

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

“Everything about this novel rings true. . . . Original, funny, disarmingly oblique, and unique.”—The Guardian

In an unnamed city, the 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.


  • Graywolf Press; December 2018
  • ISBN: 9781644451007
  • Title: Milkman
  • Author: Anna Burns
  • Imprint: Graywolf Press
  • Language: English

In The Press

“[Milkman] seeth[es] with black humor and adolescent anger at the adult world and its brutal absurdities. . . . For a novel about life under multifarious forms of totalitarian control—political, gendered, sectarian, communal—Milkman can be charmingly wry.”—The New Yorker

“Brutally intelligent. . . . At its core, Milkman is [a] wildly good and true novel of how living in fear limits people.”—NPR.org

Milkman vibrates with the anxieties of our own era, from terrorism to sexual harassment to the blinding divisions that make reconciliation feel impossible. . . . It’s as though the intense pressure of this place has compressed the elements of comedy and horror to produce some new alloy.”The Washington Post

Milkman is a strange animal; it asks a lot, but gives something back, too: the electric jolt of a voice that feels utterly, sensationally new.”Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A–)

“[Burns’] style powerfully evokes the narrator’s sense of emotional entrapment. . . . Milkman makes a passionate claim for freethinking in a place where monochromatic, us-versus-them ideology prevails.”USA Today

Milkman is a deft and triumphant work of considerable intelligence and importance. . . . It is a deeply feminist work, a compelling and significant look at how the regular life of a young woman is intimately used for personal and political gain. . . . Middle Sister is a force. She is a modern heroine.”Los Angeles Times

“Few works of fiction see as clearly as this one how violence deforms social networks, enhancing, people’s worst instincts. . . . This book is also bursting with energy, with tiny apertures of kindness, and a youthful kind of joy. . . . To plunge headlong into this voice now feels like a necessary reminder that one of the most complex and difficult emotions to put in a novel of darkness is joy. On that, too, perhaps especially so, Milkman is a triumph of resistance.”—The Boston Globe

Milkman is a richly complex portrayal of a besieged community and its traumatized citizens, of lives, lived within many concentric circles of oppression. . . . Among Burns’ singular strengths as a writer is her ability to address the topics of trauma and tyranny with a playfulness that somehow never diminishes the sense of her absolute seriousness. . . . There is a pulsating menace at the heart of the book, of which the title character is an uncannily indeterminate avatar, but also a deep sadness at the human cost of conflict. . . . For all the darkness of the world it illuminates, Milkman is as strange and variegated and brilliant as a northern sunset. You just have to turn your face toward it, and give it your full attention.”Slate

“This is a powerful, funny, and sometimes immensely beautiful novel, with a female lead whose life is a low-key renunciation of the violence that shook her city for a generation.”Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“At once intimate and universal, historical and fabulistic and timely, unconventional and almost sentimentally hopeful.”Vulture

Milkman is an explosive novel, very much of history but not limited by the names, dates, and places of the official record. It’s a more intimate work than that and an outstanding contribution to the growing canon of nameless girl heroes.”The New Republic

“This coming-of-age tale is original, timely, and ultimately rewarding.”PopMatters

Milkman vibrates. It is energized with a perspective that immerses the reader in a setting that commands attention.”Washington Independent Review of Books

“[Milkman] has unmistakable force and charisma.”—WBUR “The ARTery”

“Timely and provocative; not to miss.”Orange County Register

“Imaginative, feminist, and genre-defying. . . . Burns has conjured an extraordinary world.”The National Book Review

“With an immense rush of dazzling language, Burns submerges readers beneath the tensions of life in a police state. . . . A deeply stirring, unforgettable novel that feels like a once-in-a-generation event.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Acute, chilling, and often wry. . . . The narrator of this claustrophobic yet strangely buoyant tale undergoes an unsentimental education in sexual politics. This is an unforgettable novel.”Publishers Weekly, starred review

Milkman is a uniquely meandering and mesmerizing, wonderful and enigmatic work about borders and barriers, both physical and spiritual, and the cost of survival.”—Booklist, starred review

“Using stream of consciousness and few if any personal names, Burns creates a musical and lyrical tour de force.”Library Journal, starred review

“Eccentric and oddly beguiling. . . . What makes it memorable is the funny, alienated, common-sensical voice of middle sister, who refuses to join in the madness.”The Sunday Times (UK)

Milkman is delivered in a breathless, hectic, glorious torrent. . . . It’s an astute, exquisite account of Northern Ireland’s social landscape. . . . A potent and urgent book, with more than a hint of barely contained fury.”Irish Independent

“I haven’t stopped talking about Anna Burns’s astonishing Milkman. The voice is dazzling, funny, acute. . . . Like all great writing, it invents its own context, becomes its own universe.”—Eoin McNamee, The Irish Times

“From the opening page her words pull us into the daily violence of her world—threats of murder, people killed by state hit squads—while responding to the everyday realities of her life as a young woman.”—Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of Man Booker Prize judging panel


About The Author

Anna Burns was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is the author of two novels, No Bones and Little Constructions, and of the novella, Mostly HeroNo Bones won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She lives in East Sussex, England.

Additional information

FORMAT

Hardcover, Paperback

20 reviews for Milkman

  1. Jared Linder

    I know everyone has their own literary tastes, but I cannot fathom how anyone can like this book. It’s a seemingly endless incoherent stream of consciousness written in a presumably imagined vernacular. I actually had to read about the book to figure out that it may or may not be about Belfast during the 70s (There! Saved you $10 and a few hours).The book’s plot is almost non-existent. The character development equals that found in mid-term papers from 7th grade creative writing classes. The narrative is vague and non-sensical to the point of giving you anxiety.Every now and then the Man Booker judges miss the mark. Man Booker winners share common surrealistic themes, with winners being unique and bleeding edge…something that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes the judges choose art over literature, discounting the literary deficiencies for the artistic vision and creativity. In this case, the judges selected an art installation. Literary garbage. But unique…a writing style that has never been tried before. The problem is, there is a reason it has never been tried. Because it doesn’t work. It is miserable and nauseating to read and should have never been published.I would rate this zero starts if I had the option.

  2. Courtney

    I am in the minority it seems. I struggled to enjoy this book. The author’s writing style was extraordinarily difficult for me. None of the characters were named. They were referred to as “middle sister”, “Somebody McSomething”, “maybe boyfriend”, “third brother -in-law”, etc., was tedious and maddening. The writing style of this book was distracting. Long, dense paragraphs that were hard to follow. I gave up after 100 grueling pages.Once again, a Booker Prize winner has been unreadable for me. When will I learn?

  3. John McLachlan McKinnon

    Perhaps it’s not right to invent a title for a review that concatenates the title and author of the book under consideration but in this case it seems so appropriate. This novel so well written, so lyrically Irish, such dark humour hurt me, burnt me. I’ve not read anything else that so successfully conveys what it must have been like to live through The Troubles of Northern Ireland and the impact this had on the minds of the people who felt they had no choice but to endure and survive those times as best they could.We are told the active voice of the principal character, nameless Middle Sister, a girl of 18 , of events unfolding around and over her, covering a period of just a few months. Through rambling sentences spiced with recall and speculation a current and historical profile of unnamed neighbourhoods (I guess Belfast) emerge populated by lithe, criminally inclined, politically bloated, blighted as well as delightful inhabitants.Burn’s skilfully conveys the agony of living in a repressive society beset with tribal loyalties and fear. I had to force myself to keep reading Burn’s intimately affective, ‘fictional’ account and accept the shadowy presence of clumsy British occupying soldiers and violent IRA patriots.Middle Sister is stalked by a powerful figure in the resistance: Milkman. He is married, in his thirties, a looming criminal. The threat of his presence alone in the absence of touch is nevertheless too close, visceral, overwhelming. She is incredibly brave. She feels she must protect her bisexual Sometime Boyfriend, watch out for more than poisoned words,defend herself from the unsympathetic narrative of her best Old Friend, ignore the constant harassment of her mother, First Older Sister and others.She must deal with the attention of a rejected suitor Somebody McSomebody, a young, pathetic pistol packing neighbour who attacks her in the loo.Perhaps most terrifying of all, our narrator, Middle Sister is caught in a culture of hostile gossip whose actors compulsively invent false stories about her, disarm and imprison her in a silo of alienated silence. We wait with growing impatience under salvos of words for something to break her entrapment.Burn’s conveys the tension between Middle Sister and those closest to her and the events that surround her in a simultaneously frightening, funny and entirely convincing way. We forget the inherent contradiction between who the truly articulate Middle Sister is who is writing the text and the girl who cannot ask for help from those in a position most likely to provide it is the same person.The Middle Sister who wrote this novel may not be the author but the author knows her so well I feel it is her alter ego talking to her younger self. Burn’s describes the prison of what seems to be her own internment. There is no need for her to explain why her eminently capable narrator is incapable of helping herself.The profound message intended or not is the way this wonderful story captures a time and place, a state of mind, what is was to be living inNorthern Ireland during The Troubles. In such a milieu, such a volatile and dangerous space it is best to fain ignorance, avoid extending to much trust in others, sensible to remain silent.There is nothing as boring as didactic intent in Burn’s wonderful novel but the lessons are there. What of current day tribalism and where it could take us? Why so many closed narcissistic minds? Why the unwillingness to listen to and respect other people’s point of view? How come we never learn?Yes, it’s complicated. Let me make it even more so. Oscar Wilde writing of a much earlier phase of The Troubles wrote something like this “if only the English would learn to talk and the Irish to listen we would have a very civilised society”

  4. visorvet

    All a novel should be and the best I can recall reading in years upon years. I will be gobsmacked if this does not win the Booker Prize. I am astounded that there are so few reviews and that they are, on balance, quite poor. There is so much going on at so many levels in this story, all masterfully executed. One thought for those unaccustomed to the dialect who may find the language a bit of an obstacle – consider the audiobook. For me the language is the central joy of this novel, but there’s SO much more beyond that to think about here: history, politics, social psychology and pathology, interpersonal dynamics, gender roles, and more.ETA: this exquisite novel did indeed win the Booker prize, and all is right with my world – thank you, Ms. Burns!

  5. Sheela

    Fascinating funny….so well written, with inner thoughts I never brought to consciousness. I was a social worker in Belfast during this time. It all feels so real.

  6. Elayne Shapiro

    I had a hard time getting into this book at first, so I tried an experiment of ordering the whispernet addition. The audible addition to this book enhanced my engagement with the book … I think because the Irish dialect and excellence of the reader helped me focus. I don’t understand why this worked in my brain, but so it was. Then I was able to capture the humor and the pathos of this period of time. Structure of the book is intriguing.

  7. Nicole Del Sesto

    What a great start to Booker season!  I loved this book.  I thought the writing clever and the story engrossing.  It’s an unnamed time and an unnamed place (actually Northern Ireland during the “troubles”) with unnamed characters.  Through the voice of our narrator (“middle sister” and “maybe girlfriend” and “friend”) we explore issues of the time including: politics; feminism; family; individuality, conformity and love.   What it’s like to grow up in a place where everybody knows you and if you stick out even a little bit, to have the worst assumed about you.There’s a psychological  element as well, which added a layer of suspense to the whole story which I thought was done extremely well. I listened to the audio which only added to my enjoyment.  The narrator was perfect and the parts of the writing which would have been outstanding in the reading of them were really enhanced. A top 2018 read for me.   

  8. Sami

    In short, I found it impossible to actually wade through this novel beyond a third and had to give up on it. I wanted things to move on, for the story to emerge and actually go somewhere, but the inner thoughts of the narrator just went on and on and failed to engage me as a reader. I didn’t ‘feel’ any of the characters, and that wasn’t because they didn’t have real names, but because when they spoke they did so in riddles and ‘pseudo clever’ waffling – most especially the narrator. I’m completely open to non traditional narratives, a big fan of Palahniuk…Sedaris but I’m sorry to say I can only give this one star.

  9. Jacqueline Phillips

    Intense, dark, funny, frightening, enlightening and just plain wonderful

  10. DIY’R

    I should have waited for more reviews before ordering this book. A waste of money for sure. I gave it a good try but wasn’t feeling anything at all for any of the characters. I’m glad it’s not just me. I’m a Baby Boomer and enjoy reading new and upcoming authors, but if anyone asks me about this book I won’t hesitate to tell them to pass on this one.

  11. Jared Linder

    I know everyone has their own literary tastes, but I cannot fathom how anyone can like this book. It’s a seemingly endless incoherent stream of consciousness written in a presumably imagined vernacular. I actually had to read about the book to figure out that it may or may not be about Belfast during the 70s (There! Saved you $10 and a few hours).The book’s plot is almost non-existent. The character development equals that found in mid-term papers from 7th grade creative writing classes. The narrative is vague and non-sensical to the point of giving you anxiety.Every now and then the Man Booker judges miss the mark. Man Booker winners share common surrealistic themes, with winners being unique and bleeding edge…something that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes the judges choose art over literature, discounting the literary deficiencies for the artistic vision and creativity. In this case, the judges selected an art installation. Literary garbage. But unique…a writing style that has never been tried before. The problem is, there is a reason it has never been tried. Because it doesn’t work. It is miserable and nauseating to read and should have never been published.I would rate this zero starts if I had the option.

  12. Courtney

    I am in the minority it seems. I struggled to enjoy this book. The author’s writing style was extraordinarily difficult for me. None of the characters were named. They were referred to as “middle sister”, “Somebody McSomething”, “maybe boyfriend”, “third brother -in-law”, etc., was tedious and maddening. The writing style of this book was distracting. Long, dense paragraphs that were hard to follow. I gave up after 100 grueling pages.Once again, a Booker Prize winner has been unreadable for me. When will I learn?

  13. John McLachlan McKinnon

    Perhaps it’s not right to invent a title for a review that concatenates the title and author of the book under consideration but in this case it seems so appropriate. This novel so well written, so lyrically Irish, such dark humour hurt me, burnt me. I’ve not read anything else that so successfully conveys what it must have been like to live through The Troubles of Northern Ireland and the impact this had on the minds of the people who felt they had no choice but to endure and survive those times as best they could.We are told the active voice of the principal character, nameless Middle Sister, a girl of 18 , of events unfolding around and over her, covering a period of just a few months. Through rambling sentences spiced with recall and speculation a current and historical profile of unnamed neighbourhoods (I guess Belfast) emerge populated by lithe, criminally inclined, politically bloated, blighted as well as delightful inhabitants.Burn’s skilfully conveys the agony of living in a repressive society beset with tribal loyalties and fear. I had to force myself to keep reading Burn’s intimately affective, ‘fictional’ account and accept the shadowy presence of clumsy British occupying soldiers and violent IRA patriots.Middle Sister is stalked by a powerful figure in the resistance: Milkman. He is married, in his thirties, a looming criminal. The threat of his presence alone in the absence of touch is nevertheless too close, visceral, overwhelming. She is incredibly brave. She feels she must protect her bisexual Sometime Boyfriend, watch out for more than poisoned words,defend herself from the unsympathetic narrative of her best Old Friend, ignore the constant harassment of her mother, First Older Sister and others.She must deal with the attention of a rejected suitor Somebody McSomebody, a young, pathetic pistol packing neighbour who attacks her in the loo.Perhaps most terrifying of all, our narrator, Middle Sister is caught in a culture of hostile gossip whose actors compulsively invent false stories about her, disarm and imprison her in a silo of alienated silence. We wait with growing impatience under salvos of words for something to break her entrapment.Burn’s conveys the tension between Middle Sister and those closest to her and the events that surround her in a simultaneously frightening, funny and entirely convincing way. We forget the inherent contradiction between who the truly articulate Middle Sister is who is writing the text and the girl who cannot ask for help from those in a position most likely to provide it is the same person.The Middle Sister who wrote this novel may not be the author but the author knows her so well I feel it is her alter ego talking to her younger self. Burn’s describes the prison of what seems to be her own internment. There is no need for her to explain why her eminently capable narrator is incapable of helping herself.The profound message intended or not is the way this wonderful story captures a time and place, a state of mind, what is was to be living inNorthern Ireland during The Troubles. In such a milieu, such a volatile and dangerous space it is best to fain ignorance, avoid extending to much trust in others, sensible to remain silent.There is nothing as boring as didactic intent in Burn’s wonderful novel but the lessons are there. What of current day tribalism and where it could take us? Why so many closed narcissistic minds? Why the unwillingness to listen to and respect other people’s point of view? How come we never learn?Yes, it’s complicated. Let me make it even more so. Oscar Wilde writing of a much earlier phase of The Troubles wrote something like this “if only the English would learn to talk and the Irish to listen we would have a very civilised society”

  14. visorvet

    All a novel should be and the best I can recall reading in years upon years. I will be gobsmacked if this does not win the Booker Prize. I am astounded that there are so few reviews and that they are, on balance, quite poor. There is so much going on at so many levels in this story, all masterfully executed. One thought for those unaccustomed to the dialect who may find the language a bit of an obstacle – consider the audiobook. For me the language is the central joy of this novel, but there’s SO much more beyond that to think about here: history, politics, social psychology and pathology, interpersonal dynamics, gender roles, and more.ETA: this exquisite novel did indeed win the Booker prize, and all is right with my world – thank you, Ms. Burns!

  15. Sheela

    Fascinating funny….so well written, with inner thoughts I never brought to consciousness. I was a social worker in Belfast during this time. It all feels so real.

  16. Elayne Shapiro

    I had a hard time getting into this book at first, so I tried an experiment of ordering the whispernet addition. The audible addition to this book enhanced my engagement with the book … I think because the Irish dialect and excellence of the reader helped me focus. I don’t understand why this worked in my brain, but so it was. Then I was able to capture the humor and the pathos of this period of time. Structure of the book is intriguing.

  17. Nicole Del Sesto

    What a great start to Booker season!  I loved this book.  I thought the writing clever and the story engrossing.  It’s an unnamed time and an unnamed place (actually Northern Ireland during the “troubles”) with unnamed characters.  Through the voice of our narrator (“middle sister” and “maybe girlfriend” and “friend”) we explore issues of the time including: politics; feminism; family; individuality, conformity and love.   What it’s like to grow up in a place where everybody knows you and if you stick out even a little bit, to have the worst assumed about you.There’s a psychological  element as well, which added a layer of suspense to the whole story which I thought was done extremely well. I listened to the audio which only added to my enjoyment.  The narrator was perfect and the parts of the writing which would have been outstanding in the reading of them were really enhanced. A top 2018 read for me.   

  18. Sami

    In short, I found it impossible to actually wade through this novel beyond a third and had to give up on it. I wanted things to move on, for the story to emerge and actually go somewhere, but the inner thoughts of the narrator just went on and on and failed to engage me as a reader. I didn’t ‘feel’ any of the characters, and that wasn’t because they didn’t have real names, but because when they spoke they did so in riddles and ‘pseudo clever’ waffling – most especially the narrator. I’m completely open to non traditional narratives, a big fan of Palahniuk…Sedaris but I’m sorry to say I can only give this one star.

  19. Jacqueline Phillips

    Intense, dark, funny, frightening, enlightening and just plain wonderful

  20. DIY’R

    I should have waited for more reviews before ordering this book. A waste of money for sure. I gave it a good try but wasn’t feeling anything at all for any of the characters. I’m glad it’s not just me. I’m a Baby Boomer and enjoy reading new and upcoming authors, but if anyone asks me about this book I won’t hesitate to tell them to pass on this one.

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