Anna Burns, Milkman

When was the last time you looked at a sunset? And what colour was the sky? Did you feel happy nobody told you what to see and what not to look at? Maybe you should…

When I opened this book and started reading it I was surprised because nothing could have prepared me for the style I was about to encounter. The pretty pink cover was not helpful either. This novel is unlike anything else I have ever read. It is written in the first person, a stream of consciousness, but in an original and unique way.

The narration comes in an unstoppable torrent of words, images, associations, thoughts, ideas. The narration is dense, tight, there are no boundaries between words, themes and topics, it just flows rapidly on with full strength, filled with sarcasm, irony and humor.

This novel sucks you in its unbelievable world, a dark, depressive, scary, uncanny surrounding that tries to change your mind while reading it, just as it did change the mind of its narrator, an eighteen-year-old girl and everybody else’s in the novel. This world has no names, only descriptions, things happen only maybe, there is no certainty, no truth, only gossip and hearsay. People think whatever they wish and make others believe it as well.  

“But there was no choice. It was that there was no more alternative. Ill-equipped I’d been to take in what everybody else from the outset easily had taken in: I was Milkman’s fait accompli all along.”

A world in which the biggest crime is not fitting in, wanting to be different, wanting not to be devoured by it. A world in which reading -while-walking is the biggest crime, not wanting to be a part of what others constructed for you.

“It’s the way you do it – reading books, whole books, taking notes, checking footnotes, underlining passages as if you’re at some desk or something, in a little private study or something, the curtains closed, your lamp on, a cup of tea beside you, essays being penned – your discourses, your lucubrations. It’s disturbing. It’s deviant. It’s optical illusional. Not public-spirited. Not self-preservation. Calls attention to itself and why – with the enemies at the door, with the community under siege, with us all having to pull together – would anyone want to call attention to themselves for?”

Unfortunately, as it seems, this is not a dystopian novel, it is a novel referring to the 70s Troubles. It could easily be an impossible society far away because it’s so ruthless and inhuman, as too often societies can be.

It is a world without sunsets, beauty, there is no place in it for art and feelings.

“it was the convention not to admit it, not to accept detail for this type of detail would mean choice and choice would mean responsibility and what if we failed in our responsibility? Failed too, in the interrogation of the consequence of seeing more than we could cope with? Worse, what if it was nice whatever it was, and we liked it, got used to it, were cheered up by it, came to rely upon it, only for it to go away, or be wrenched away, never to come back again? Better not to have had it in the first place was the prevailing feeling, and that was why blue was the colour for our sky to be.”

I am not sure if I could tell anyone I know: ‘Please read this, it’s a fantastic novel.’ It’s more an experience than a read. Such unusual strength it has, might over you. It makes you nervous, uneasy, uncertain, not really yourself. Who would want that? I certainly would because it means it is an exceptional work of art, but I doubt many people would want to have such an uncorfotable experience reading a book. So, if you are a true reader, not easily scared and want to concentrate reading other than relax, this is a book for you.

A true work of art and a very well deserved Booker prize. I am hoping for something this different and unique this year!

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