Review: Milkman, by Anna Burns

milkman anna burns

Rating: ★★★★☆

Genres: Literary Fiction

Goodreads / Amazon

Milkman tells the story of an unnamed girl in an unnamed city, where the social rules to belonging are strict and don’t allow for straying too far. When the gets the unwanted attention of the Milkman and becomes the center of gossip in the city, she knows she’s in danger.

It took me several days to actually finish Milkman, because this gorgeous and witty book demands focus and can be dense to read at times. There isn’t a lot of dialogue going on and the paragraphs can be long, which by no means makes it a boring read at all, just a slower one if you’re used to, say, reading thrillers or other fast-paced stories. Although this was 350 pages long, it did feel more like 450-500 pages.

This book had an atmosphere of vigilance, tension and willing ignorance of the masses which made me think of The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984. Reading this is like being stuck in the hour before a storm, with the dense air, thick and humid all around you and all you want is for the rain to come down, thunderstorm and all, if only the pressure will go away. I read this in a few sittings, and every time I stopped reading it, going back to the regular world outside felt like breathing fresh air.

Anna Burns is clearly very talented and this novel is brilliant! I loved that the main character was both sensitive and intelligent, but still trying to much to escape her reality that she literally could not remember certain things and lacked some perceptiveness to what was around her. Watching her struggle with powerlessness felt claustrophobic at times. I loved also the wee sisters, her three small sisters, who made me laugh.

I am curious now to listen to this book. Due to the way that it’s told, with sometimes jumping ahead and back in time to see some parts of the story through a certain lenses, it might be difficult to listen to this for the first time, but now that I am familiar with the story, I’d like to see what the book sounds like – because the writing is really so beautiful. It reminded me a bit on that aspect of Virginia Woolf, particularly of To The Lighthouse, whose books I also liked listening to but are easier to follow in written form.

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18 thoughts on “Review: Milkman, by Anna Burns

  1. “Reading this is like being stuck in the hour before a storm, with the dense air, think and humid all around you and all you want is for the rain to come down, thunderstorm and all, if only the pressure will go away.” – That is such an excellent way to describe this book! Great review 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review! Love the thunderstorm comparison. And you’re totally right that her style is a bit reminiscent of Virginia Woolf, though I really didn’t enjoy To the Lighthouse and I found this to be such an entertaining read. I want to check out the audio at some point too, I’ve heard it’s amazing in that format!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review! I agree with everything you’re saying here, including that it felt like a longer book because of its density, the feeling of claustrophobia, and your comparison to The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984. I also found the wee sisters amusing, and most of the other minor characters as well, to be honest! So many of them had such unique and colorful backstories that I was often as interested in the side characters as the Milkman drama. Such an utterly wonderful book. I’m glad you enjoyed this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I was not entirely sure if to read Milkman and only got it once it won the Man Booker’s Prize, but after ALSO making it to the Women’s Prize Longlist, it definitely got bumped up!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice review! I’m also curious to see what the audio is like – I read that a Booker judge found the writing easier to listen to than read, but I feel like it’d be easy to get lost.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Reaction to 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner & Thoughts on the Longlist | Naty's Bookshelf

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