Milkman – Audible Book Review
By: Anna Burns
Narrated by: Bríd Brennan
Length: 14 hrs and 11 mins
The Milkman is Anna Burns’ third novel and won the Man Booker prize last year. It tells the story of an 18 year old female protagonist living during the troubles in Belfast in the late 1970s. She starts to receive the unwelcome advances of an older man. This man is known simply as ‘the milkman’, despite her not knowing where or if he delivers milk. He is already married and she did nothing to welcome his advances, but she struggles to distance herself from him. The reason it is so difficult to reject his advances is that he is a major player in a certain terrorist movement, a so called ‘renouncer’ as they are referred to throughout the novel.
One of the most fascinating elements of the novel is that it rejects the use of proper names throughout. It gives it an almost fairytale like quality, despite the subject matter, as people are referred to as Somebody Mc Somebody. Strangely, you know who each character is, as they are given nicknames or names based on how they relate to the main protagonist. There is a ‘Maybe Boyfriend’ who is referred to as such due to their relationship not being quite as official as it could be. Other characters include ‘Longest Friend’ or “2nd Brother-in-law“ and somehow it all makes sense, with each character having as much life as with a real name. There have been some comparisons in writing style to Beckett and it does have the same intentionally convoluted feel, like the writer is tying you in knots, making the structure deliberately complex to draw out the humour.
The book highlights some of the bizarre instances of Belfast during the troubles. How the city was divided, so much so that you knew which bus stops you could travel from, or what side of the street to be on depending on your religion. The Catholics were also not allowed to use hospitals, as going to one would cast doubt on whether you’re an informer or not. There are hundreds of such nuggets as this, that give you an idea of a shattered community, that you can only understand by growing up within and seems peculiar from the outside.
The book can be extremely funny, as the main character has a unique perspective on the world around her. This does not take away from the drama of the work, and the fact that those involved in the story are extremely dangerous. The Milkman is a mysterious character that looms over everything, occasionally turning up when he is least expected. The book gives an insight into a community divided and the way these divisions play out in everyday life. It’s a fascinating read that draws you into this unique and macabre society.
The book is narrated by Bríd Brennan, who is a perfect choice for the work. Her accent is without fault and she puts enough humour and pathos into the text to make it come alive. An ideal choice for the role.