Milkman is a tough read. But it is worth it.
Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, it is the story of an unnamed girl and her stalker. But it’s also the story of a community ravaged by terror, of being a young girl, and of Ireland itself. No one in the story has a name — there’s “middle sister,” our narrator, “Milkman,” her stalker/a violent paramilitary, “maybe-boyfriend,” her (you guessed it) maybe boyfriend, and many, many more. It’s not just people that don’t get names — it’s the places, and organizations; Britain is simply “the country over the water,” and there’s a spot in Belfast simply called the “10 minute place,” because it takes you 10 minutes to walk through.
Still with me?
The narration is all just the internal monologue of middle sister; how she sees, and navigates, her world. It begins, “The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died. He had been shot by one of the state hit squads and I did not care about the shooting of this man…” (Which is a sentence I’m only now getting — and you will only get once you finish the book.)
There were paragraphs I had to re-read to make sure I understood before moving on (and then re-read again), but however challenging it was, reading Milkman was a very rewarding book. As Mark O’Connell writes in Slate, “For all the simplicity of its setup, Milkman is a richly complex portrayal of a besieged community and its traumatized citizens, of lives lived within many concentric circles of oppression.”
After winning the Man Book Prize in 2018, Burns explained her past experiences inspired the novel; she said, “ I grew up in a place that was rife with violence, distrust and paranoia, and peopled by individuals trying to navigate and survive in that world as best as they could.”
It’s a story of a resilient young girl. Rating: ★★★★★
Get it here: https://amzn.to/2U1JXSL