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2018 Man Booker Longlist: Milkman

the milkman

Next up, Milkman by Anna Burns. Most of our panel managed to read this longlisted book. Once again we are pretty split on the book. Here are our reviews.Milkman by Anna Burns
2018 Man Booker (longlist)
Published in: 2018
Judges: Nicole, Jen, Book Worm, Anita, and Lisa
Find it/buy it here: Milkman

Synopsis (from Amazon): In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous. Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

Nicole’s Review (Note: Nicole read this book first but we posted other reviews before this one): What a great start to Booker season!  I loved this book.  I thought the writing clever and the story engrossing.  It’s an unnamed time and an unnamed place (actually Northern Ireland during the “troubles”) with unnamed characters.

Through the voice of our narrator (“middle sister” and “maybe girlfriend” and “friend”) we explore issues of the time including: politics; feminism; family; individuality, conformity and love.   What it’s like to grow up in a place where everybody knows you and if you stick out even a little bit, to have the worst assumed about you.

There’s a psychological  element as well, which added a layer of suspense to the whole story which I thought was done extremely well.

I listened to the audio which only added to my enjoyment.  The narrator was perfect and the parts of the writing which would have been outstanding in the reading of them were really enhanced.

A top 2018 read for me.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 4/4
Plot Development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Jen’s Review: This book took me longer to finish than all the other previous books (I’ve read 7 other longlisted books) combined. I had the opposite reaction to Nicole in that reading this was torturous for me.

Enjoyment of this book is all about how you feel about the narrative style. if you love the style, you will love the book and if you hate it, you’ll struggle to enjoy it. Personally, my attention span doesn’t do well with these sorts of books — long passages with few breaks (some passages had not paragraph breaks for 10+pages), stream-of-consciousness, etc. These feelings are more the fault of a poor match up between reader and book than it is any great fault of the book. I hated the style. I found it rambling and mostly rather dull — in fact I repeatedly fell asleep trying to read it. It took me a good 2.5 weeks to read the first 50 pages.

There were moments I found humorous and I can certainly see why the book would appeal to many readers. Many readers who I like and respect loved this book. From a literary perspective I think it has merit and I concede that it’s not entirely out of place on the Man Booker list (unlike Snap which does not deserve a spot). This book, like many on this year’s list is very political and contains a lot of gender commentary. I did find the historical context of the novel (Northern Ireland) and they ways in which the author really captured that time and place to be pretty skilled. This book has a lot to say and a lot of issues that can generate reflection. Had the author employed a different narrative style, I might have loved it.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 14/20

Book Worm’s Review:  I was drawn into this book at the beginning as I really liked the unnamed narrator, enjoyed being inside her head, and liked learning about the society in which she was living. As the book went on, however, I began to switch off because actually nothing really happens. There are encounters with Milkman, there are hidden threats and psychological undertones, there are family and “maybe boyfriend” issues, but by the end of the story I didn’t feel like I really cared about any of it.

What I did like about this book was the subtle way living in Northern Ireland during the Troubles was portrayed. I liked the subtle menace and the way the characters didn’t trust each other. It was also interesting to see that while women were portrayed as vulnerable and obedient to men, it was also hinted that being a man was harder since women were forgiven for certain things that would have meant death for a man.

My favourite characters by far were “wee sisters.” They were great and added some amusement and colour to an otherwise pretty bleak story.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Character Development: 2/4
Plot Development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 11/20

Anita’s Review: The word that springs to mind upon finishing this book is torturous. There is no doubt that this book joins, if not tops, my list of top ten worst works of literary fiction. To be honest, there is an interesting novel in here somewhere, but the voice, the voice is just completely annoying and overshadows everything else in the book. It’s original. It’s just not original in a good way.

Let’s focus on the good for a moment. The central character, Middle Sister, is narrating the tale. Her character is well developed, and the novel has some astute observations on the dangers of false rumors and innuendo. And about fear. In addition, there are several sections about Middle Sister’s mother, and these are wittily rendered. A LOT happens in this book; characters lie, die, and cry; it should have been so much more interesting than it was. The plot line was completely overshadowed by the repetitious, oddly voiced storytelling.

The problem is that it just feels like one long, tedious story about people you don’t care about. It is very repetitive, and these repetitive sections have some poetic rhythms to them which I would have appreciated had they been in much smaller doses. Much, much smaller. Instead, it took me more than a week to read this relatively short novel, and I was seriously trying. I never DNF, but I came so close. The last 20% was an improvement, but not enough to endure the first 80%. All that being said, watch this one win…

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 0/2
Total: 11/20

Lisa’s Review: I loved Milkman. I listened to the book, rather than read it. The narrator had a lovely Irish accent that made it even more evocative of Northern Ireland in the 1970s. However, when I went back and looked at the text, and read passages aloud to my husband, I still loved it. I think her style of writing is brilliant. The book reads as if it were a fantasy dystopia; this effect is heightened by the fact that she does not use anyone’s name. Everyone is called by their relationship to the narrator (“first brother-in-law,” “maybe boyfriend”), by their function in this small community (“the man who did not love anyone”), or by the fact that they serve no purpose in society and have no relationship to the narrator (Somebody McSomebody”). This book made me laugh out loud and it made me think about how restrictive and difficult life was “in this time, in this place.” I admit I also liked the fact that despite the violence and death that is a constant background threat, the story also provides hope in the way people can form deep relationships with others. It will be hard for me to find a book that I like better on the longlist.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character Development: 4/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Total panel score: 14.8/20

Ranking of longlist books:
1. Overstory (18/20)
2. From a Low and Quiet Sea (17.2/20)
3. Warlight (15.56/20)
4. Milkman (14.8/20)
5. The Water Cure by Mackintosh (14.2)
6. The Mars Room (14/20)
7. Snap (11.5/20)
8. Sabrina (9.5/20)

We want to hear from you. Have you read the book? What did you think? Does it deserve to make the shortlist? Why or why not?

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nicole R #

    I think you should put the mean and standard deviation for these! lol. Milkman is ranked higher than Warlight, though I believe it was more consistent ranking across the reviewers.

    Like

    September 12, 2018
    • Ha ha, true.

      Like

      September 12, 2018
    • Once Anita’s review gets in there, it will sink.

      Like

      September 12, 2018
      • It’s in now. It did drop it down which I think is appropriate.

        Like

        September 12, 2018
  2. Tracy S #

    I did like this, though I struggled with the stream of consciousness. I appreciated the originality- it’s not like anything else I’ve read.

    Like

    September 12, 2018
  3. Anita #

    Where’s my review? *sob* I tortured myself reading this . . .

    Like

    September 12, 2018
    • I’m so sorry. I must have missed it. I will add tonight

      Like

      September 12, 2018
    • LOL — Anita. That’s awful.

      Like

      September 12, 2018
      • Anita #

        Ha ha, honestly, I never DNF, and I might have if it wasn’t for the blog. I am so glad you liked it so much more than me. Frankly, I’m pretty sure 99.99% of readers may have liked it more . . .

        Like

        September 12, 2018
  4. Having read your reviews I’m convinced I would NOT have made it through this book had it not been for the audio. I don’t do well with that structure. There was something really special about this book on audio though.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 12, 2018
    • LisaU #

      i listened to it too– so I was not bothered by overlong paragraphs. The audio was mesmerizing.

      Like

      September 15, 2018
  5. I feel like I need to read this now instead of listen. But don’t want to ruin my love.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 13, 2018
    • Anita #

      Don’t do it! Although maybe having heard the audio already, it would play that way in your head. I’m not a good auditory processor, but sounds like listening was the way to go on this one.

      Like

      September 13, 2018
  6. Susie #

    Jen, your thoughts mirror mine. I do see that it has literary merit despite personally loathing every single word. Lol!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 13, 2018
  7. Scott #

    I’ve read all the books and my two least favorites are Milkman and Snap.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 13, 2018
    • Interesting. Pretty different from our panel. Why Snap? What did you love about it?

      Like

      September 13, 2018
      • Scott #

        My LEAST favorites.

        Like

        September 14, 2018
      • Oh, I misread that. That makes more sense.

        Like

        September 14, 2018
  8. Great example of how different books might appeal to different people! Personally I think I will enjoy this, and I honestly don’t mind that not a lot of things happen in a book.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 13, 2018
  9. natashaketel #

    Do you think this deserved to win?

    Like

    October 30, 2018
  10. I love the diversity of your reviews, that makes it all the more intriguing and tells me, we just have to read it for ourselves. I just did and I’m with those who loved it, brilliant and worth the torture of getting into the narrative style and voice.

    Like

    November 12, 2018

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