I was absolutely delighted to hear that Anna Burns won the Man Booker Prize last night for her novel Milkman.
She is the first writer from Northern Ireland to ever win the prize – a fact that seemed to surprise her when she was told it on Radio 4 last night! – and the first woman to win it since 2012.
Milkman, set in Belfast in the 1970s tells the story of an 18 year-old girl who becomes involved with the eponymous Milkman, a local paramilitary. It has caused headlines for its experimental nature and the fact that no characters in the book have names.
Burns, who was born in Belfast in 1962 and now lives in southern England, has written two other novels – No Bones and Little Constructions – and was shortlisted for the 2002 Orange Prize for Fiction.
I am about a third of the way through Milkman and really enjoying it. It does take a while to get into and the style is completely unique, but Burns perfectly captures that sense of paranoia and the normalisation of menace that afflicted Northern Ireland during the Troubles. I’ll report back once I’m finished!
The reaction from the press has been interesting – there was a particularly snippy article in The Guardian this morning suggesting that the win for Milkman would not translate into sales due to the fact that it is a ‘difficult’ book. This is an odd stance to take given that Milkman was already outselling all the books on the shortlist despite being the least favourite to win the prize. I wonder too, if the same article would have been written had Richard Powers won for The Overstory.
If you are interested in reading more about Milkman and the context within which it was written, do check out this fantastic essay by Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado on Milkman and Gender in Conflict. Fascinating insight.
This is a great time for literature from Northern Ireland and particularly for women writers from Northern Ireland and I am absolutely delighted that Anna Burns has scooped one of the biggest literary prizes in the world.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!