Milkman — Anna Burns

Set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Milkman follows an unnamed 18-year-old who draws the unwanted attentions of a high-profile member of a paramilitary organization. Within their small community, gossip quickly spreads that they are having an affair, thus creating the book’s main thread of conflict.

I’m not going to dwell long on Milkman. I didn’t like it. I didn’t find the main character sympathetic or even, at times, believable. Burns writes dialogue that nobody would ever say. And she has a tendency to create paragraphs spanning multiple pages which would be fine if the quality of her prose created the natural rhythms required to help one to follow the writing. But it doesn’t. And this is compounded by her decision to have the narrator only refer to people by their relationship to her (if close) or other identifying features (if not), which quickly became tedious to follow.

For the sake of fairness, I should note that Milkman has been receiving widespread praise, from The Guardian, The Irish Times, The New Statesman, The Telegraph, and The Times (paywall). However, I don’t see myself recommending anybody read this. If you want something similar in tone, most of Margaret Atwood’s output would be a far better starting place. And for books addressing the Troubles, you have no shortage of options.

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