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Reviews of Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman by Anna Burns


by Anna Burns
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  • Dec 2018
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About This Book

Book Summary

Winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

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.


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. He had been shot by one of the state hit squads and I did not care about the shooting of this man. Others did care though, and some were those who, in the parlance, 'knew me to see but not to speak to' and I was being talked about because there was a rumour started by them, or more likely by first brother-in- law, that I had been having an affair with this milkman and that I was eighteen and he was forty-one. I knew his age, not because he got shot and it was given by the media, but because there had been talk before this, for months before the shooting, by these people of the rumour, that forty-one and eighteen was disgusting, that twenty-three years' difference was disgusting, that he was married and not to be fooled by me for there were plenty of quiet, unnoticeable people who took a bit of watching. It had been my fault too, it seemed,...

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    Booker Prize

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    National Book Critics Circle Awards


BookBrowse Review


Thoughtful and deliberate, Milkman offers incisive commentary on gender socialization and the pressure to conform during an era of political instability. While the novel's experimental form and excessive introspection won't appeal to everyone, Burns has crafted an unforgettable tale about what it means to fall below "the benchmark of social regularity" at a time when difference is demonized...continued

Full Review (756 words)

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(Reviewed by Michael Kaler).

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
[This is] the sort of boldly experimental – and frankly brain-kneading – novel that is usually let in at longlist stage [of the Man Booker Prize] and gently dropped as the competition narrows...It will no doubt baffle many readers and depress a good few booksellers as an opener for the festive sales season, but at least it's not a vote for the status quo at a time when many have been saying the Booker has lost its mojo since it opened up to the Americans.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)
A darkly funny novel about Seventies Belfast that leaves words ominously unspoken

Irish Times
Milkman is both a story of Belfast and its particular sins but it is also a story of anywhere. It reminded me of China Mieville's The City and the City where identity, names and seeing the Other are contentious acts. Milkman shares this level of ambition; it is an impressive, wordy, often funny book and confirms Anna Burns as one of our rising literary stars.

Irish Independent
Milkman is a potent and urgent book, with more than a hint of barely contained fury.

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.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred 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.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Chairman of the judges for the Man Booker Prize
None of us has ever read anything like this before. Anna Burns' utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking and form in surprising and immersive prose. It is a story of brutality, sexual encroachment and resistance threaded with mordant humor. Set in a society divided against itself, Milkman explores the insidious forms oppression can take in everyday life.

Reader Reviews

Pegeen Brosnan

Immersive and humorous
The Milkman is an immersion into a society which demands taking sides, loyalty to one’s “ tribe” and especially for “ middle sisters” staying below the radar. Dreaming of a future free of these ties, reading while walking are all as noticeably so ...   Read More

Difficult to read, but story has meaning
The narrator in this book seems so ramble off forever at time, sometimes without meaning. I listened to it on Audible at x2 speed and it still didn't get to the point fast enough. The author describes very useless details to the story and that's what...   Read More

Milkman Anna Burns
I expected much more from this book given the prize. It was difficult to read. I found no conclusion to the patter of conversations and endless ramblings that were seemingly in the head of the main character. It didn’t seem to draw any conclusions, ...   Read More

Pretentious prose on steroids
Style should not be torturous for the reader. Paragraphs that troll on for pages, sentences that have no foreseeable end, do not capture my attention. Rather take an aspirin and go to bed. Sorry.

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Beyond the Book

The Man Booker Prize Controversy

Man Booker prize trophyWhile frequently framed as a challenging novel, Milkman has resonated with critics and readers alike since the work won the Man Booker Prize in October 2018. Expressing the thoughts of many book reviewers, Ron Charles of the Washington Post branded Anna Burns' third book "the best last novel of [last] year" and "something strange and complex," a throwback to the complicated fiction of modernist titans such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. In spite of early fears that the novel would demand too much from casual readers, its sales also have soared, with over 300,000 copies sold in the UK and Ireland. The unexpected winner of the Booker has provoked very little controversy at a time when the prize itself has been facing a high level of ...

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