Anna Burns wins the Man Booker Prize!

I was absolutely delighted to hear that Anna Burns won the Man Booker Prize last night for her novel Milkman.

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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.

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I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

34 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I was also disappointed by the article in the Guardian and by some discussion on Twitter suggesting that it is somehow inherently elitist and snobby to write books that are ‘hard’ and not immediately accessible to everyone. Your point about sales is a very good one, and IIRC this is also reflected in the success of other ‘experimental’ novels such as A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing.

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  2. I managed to watch the announcement and enjoyed listening to the discussion with reader/bloggers, and it seemed a fitting win to me, typically more towards ‘literary’ than ease of reading in true Booker style, but delighted to see it go to a woman writer, mid career and creating a voice little heard from Northern Ireland. It doesn’t surprise me there are no names, it was a question perhaps too often asked by people growing up there in the past, removing them seems to me powerfully significant. I look forward to your review! Enjoy reading it.

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    • Exactly Claire. I heard her being interviewed and she explained that the lack of names was to suggest the lack of individual autonomy and identity that existed, and exists, during conflict. There is a real surge in women writers coming out of Northern Ireland and it’s great to see.

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      • Thank you for the link to the essay, I read it in its entirety, just brilliant and so insightful into the context and background, the conditioning that was and is responsible for the situation regarding gender norms and expectations surrounding behaviours today. It sounds like a sad, difficult read, that powerlessness is tough for women and especially empaths to read. However, I definitely intend to read it and am excited for the service this win will have done for women everywhere, especially Northern Irish writers.

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  3. I was pleased too, although Washington Black was my favourite. I don’t mind admitting that I found Milkman very difficult to get into but well worth it and the style is appropriate to the material. A far more satisfying read than last year’s.

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  4. That’s great! I haven’t seen Milkman but will look for it now. I hate when a book is labeled as difficult because then readers will pass over books that are great but just require thought. I’m glad I saw your post this morning. Looking forward to your review.

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  5. I’m so happy that Anna Burns won! I thought Milkman was such a quiet powerhouse of a novel, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished reading it. I hate all the comments that it only won because it’s the most challenging book on the shortlist, which implies that it doesn’t have any virtues outside being experimental, which is blatantly untrue. That Guardian article was awful! “Milkman may not be the best novel in contention this year” – says who?!

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  6. Even though I haven’t been following the prize closely this year (the only one I’ve read and reviewed is Washington Black), I am intrigued by the reporting that her win is like Eimear McBride’s for the Women’s Fiction Prize a few years ago. These challenging reads do make us work, but when did that become a bad thing? There is an abundance of research available now about the importance of keeping our brains alert and active and ever-developing and changing, so for the bookish among us, experimental writing is an ideal way to “exercise”.

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  7. I was so happy when I saw the news! As you know it was my top pick but I was afraid it would lose to a more buzzy book. Burns is so deserving and I think this is a book with layers upon layers to discover.
    The Guardian article was so annoying. I think they really wanted Rooney and failing her, Johnson. But Milkman is just a better, more accomplished novel in my opinion.

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  8. I’m terrible at keeping up with contemporary books so I hadn’t heard of this but the synopsis has really intrigued me so I might just have to get a copy.

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