Back in 2015, I became obsessed with literary prizes, especially the Man Booker Prize. Now, 2015 was the only year I ACTUALLY read the books on the list, but despite that I have been following the prize ever since then and checking in to see the books listed and the books that won. Milkman is one such book. Plus, it is one of those that at one point EVERYONE talked about it, and I am nothing if not a bandwagoner, so I decided to pick it up and see how I like it. I knew nothing about it going in and I have to say – I am conflicted.
Milkman follows an eighteen-year-old girl in an unnamed city during The Troubles in Ireland, as she becomes the focus of the town’s gossip in the midst of her own personal drama, all set to the backdrop of a very tumultuous time for her country and community.
It’s undeniable that Anna Burns is a very skilled writer. Her writing is incredibly accomplished but also quite unique and eccentric – the whole story is told in this incredibly frantic stream of consciousness manner, which makes for a really interesting reading experience. I was honestly in awe of how she managed to write this story – it’s an unstructured outpour of words, but a really beautiful one at times. I can totally comprehend why this book is so critically acclaimed. Just look at this piece of brilliant writing:
“Cats are not adoring like dogs. They don’t care. They can never be relied upon to shore up a human ego. They go their way, do their thing, are not subservient and will never apologise. No one has ever come across a cat apologising and if a cat did, it would patently be obvious it was not being sincere.”
There are numerous passages that I have highlighted that tackle the topics of rape culture, of a woman’s place in a community, of community in general, of depression… There are a number of topics Anna Burns tackles and she does it in this frantic, blunt way, which I absolutely loved.
I think this book manages to portray a community that is tearing at its seams due to the constant surveillance it is subjected to incredibly well. There’s this constant sense of unease that really leaps off the page and makes you sort of feel the way the main character is feeling, which is, in my opinion, an incredible feat. And as you all know, I really love stories about communities and their inner workings and dynamics, which made this more rewarding for me than it would have been otherwise.
And like I said, I think this book really has some sharp and insightful commentary that I really enjoyed reading and when a certain passage came up, I fully appreciated those bursts of sheer brilliance. However…
I remember Rachel saying in her review that for a lot of people this book is going to fall under the category of “I appreciated it, but I did not like it”, and that’s exactly what it was for me. This book is hard work. I had a lot of trouble focusing and I was genuinely never excited to pick this back up. I was well over half of the way through this and considered DNFing it, which I never do. It was just a lot of work and this book almost put me in a slump.
This book has no plot and it’s very thematically driven, which I have said on numerous occasions doesn’t really work for me. I need characters to connect with, and this book is purposefully vague about its characters. They don’t have names and they aren’t that fleshed out on purpose, and while I understand its purpose and can fully get what the author was trying to do, it still did not work for me.
And that goes for the book as a whole – I get it, I get and appreciate the point, but it just did not work for me. Thematically driven books never do – I need characters and that’s just a very me thing. But even beyond that, I think this book is incredibly niche and I generally don’t think this will be an enjoyable reading experience for anyone – it’s just the matter of whether or not it is a rewarding one. And for me, it really wasn’t.
Like I said, I appreciated this novel, but I did not really like it, and I have to say, it wasn’t a really rewarding experience for me. I wouldn’t be quick to recommend this, just because it’s such a specific novel. But it’s undoubtedly well-written and it really made me think when I put it down.
I would love to hear from you – do you have plans to read this one? Or have you already read it? If so, I’d love to see what you think!
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