Monday, April 8, 2019

Milkman, by Anna Burns (author), Brid Brennan (narrator)

Dreamscape Media, December 2018

In this unnamed city in an unnamed country, which is nevertheless clearly a city in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Middle Sister has had the misfortune and the mistake of becoming interesting. This is not a place to be interesting. This is a time and a place to blend in and be just like everyone else in your district. Being different creates problems.

Middle Sister has lost friends, neighbors, and siblings to the Troubles, directly and indirectly. She has tried to shut it all out. She reads while walking--serious reading, including taking notes and underlining, while walking. She's seeing a guy she calls Maybe Boyfriend, because they aren't a fully committed couple. She doesn't gossip. And she becomes interesting to an older man called Milkman. Milkman is a high-ranking Renouncer, i.e., one of the anti-government paramilitary. He's married. Suddenly everyone thinks she's having an affair with him.

This is a very good book, a completely absorbing book. It's also modern literary fiction, the genre that thinks it's not a genre, with conventions it thinks aren't genre conventions, among them not having a coherent plot. It does depart from its genre conventions, though, in that the more you learn of the characters, the more plausible and convincing they are as human beings. We grow to understand why Ma, and Eldest Daughter, and Third Brother-in-Law, and Wee Sisters (three in number, not two, as I initially thought), and Maybe Boyfriend, and Oldest Friend, have made the choices they've made.

And Middle Sister has a lot to learn about herself, and how her own choices have set her up for what happens to her in this story.

Everyone makes choices here, and the choices have consequences, and some are good and some are bad. Middle Sister, eighteen years old, has a lot to learn about herself, as well as about family, friends, and neighbors she thinks she knows everything about. It's hard to know what to say, about a story told in many ways indirectly, and in a less linear way that it seems at first. Yet this is a very compelling look at life in what is a a very strange kind of war zone, where there aren't, mostly, tanks or bombers or pitched battles, but life is very, very dangerous, and informers are everywhere.

You might not necessarily get into this story immediately. It's very much worth giving yourself the time to get into it.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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