Milkman was a book that I enjoyed reading a lot. I know that sentence might come off as a bit odd, I could simply say that the book was great and I did indeed find it to be fantastic. However, please not the emphasis on I in that opener; I loved this book, but I honestly don't know if it is the type of book I would recommend to other people. I have seen a lot of criticism over this book on the internet and I definitely see where a lot of people are coming from. Due to that, I understand why someone might not like this book but I enjoyed the shit out of it.
Milkman is set in an unnamed city in Europe in the 70s during a highly politicized time referred to as "the troubles". The area is rife with car bombings, alti-government military groups, and general xenophobia for other religions and "that country over the water". Realistically it is most likely to reflect Belfast in the 70s when the NRA and the independence movement were in heavy effect, but the actual location and specifics are not integral to the story itself. The book is about what it is like to live in extremely politicized times; Ireland wasn't the only country going through political issues in the 70s and a lot of the attitudes and actions in the book are supposed to be applicable to anywhere, since politics never truly change. In fact the author has stripped out almost all specifics from the story including the characters names (for the most part), opting to instead refer to them by ambiguous relationships they have with the narrator (first sister, third brother-in-law, Somebody McSomebody).
What I loved so much about this book is how it does a great job at conveying a feeling. In this story the political landscape is extremely tense; it is a place where being seen with the wrong person can become a rumor about how you two are having an affair. If you say the wrong thing in passing, people start to talk and suddenly you are a state renouncer or, even worse, an informant of the state, and either way you are getting put on a government list. Even going to the hospital is dangerous, because if you go to the hospital there will be questions about your injury and then you will speak with the police and if you speak with the police you will certainly be flipped into an informant for the state and if you are an informant for the state then your local renouncers will show up and shoot you in your own house. Maybe you own something with a flag from a country. Maybe you are the wrong religion. Maybe you have the wrong name. Worst of all, what if someone with influence wants you in their life? How can you say no?
All of this is explored by tangent, stream-of-conciousness writing. The book is constantly veering off into these completely over-thought explanations of the disaterous effects that even the smallest of actions have, and by the end of the tangent you are left wondering what was happening and how we even got there in the first place. I understand there are a lot of people out there that do not like that writing style, and so I definitely can see where people are coming from when they say it is grating. I wouldn't say it was a difficult book to read but I think you have to be the type of reader that can accept these random side-tours. I personally loved how the reader gets right into the head of middle-sister and very much so feels how, and why, she so overthinks everything but to each their own.
What Milkman does so amazingly well is get this feeling of paranoia across to the reader, and that is why I truly loved reading this book. The whole time you are completely innundated by the sheer complexity of the area that middle sister lives in. She is constantly on guard at all times because she has no other choice. Middle sister attempts the fight back against these pressures by offering up nothing. She shows no emotion. Claims ignorance at all questions. Never lets anyone know anything about her. It's an interesting concept; is it a complete unwillingness to participate in politics a form of rebellion? Unfortuneately, despite middle-sisters best efforts to stay out of everything, she is eventually swept up in the politics of her area, even becoming a central figure in her area for a brief time. The book sreves as a stark reminder that eventually politics affect everybody, whether you want to participate in them or not.
One of the other reasons I probably wouldn't recommend this book to other people is that there isn't all that much that happens. Milkman isn't plot driven at all, the actual events that take place are limited and, when they do happen, there isn't anything terribly exciting. This book is much more diven by its refreshing characters, fantastic emotional intelligence, and darker humor (A N T I O R G A S M S). On top of that, Milkman is a fantastically written book. It's been a while since I read a book with as good of prose as this, and I commend Anna Burns on a fantastic write! I enjoyed this book tremendously and will definitely be checking out more of her work.