Milkman by Anna Burns [4/10]

The hero whose thoughts we inhabit for the length of “Milkman,” the third novel by British author Anna Burns, is Middle Daughter, a disaffected eighteen-year old enmeshed in the Northern Ireland “Troubles.” From the outset the reader is plunged into a claustrophobic tale of gossip, murder, stalking (a paramilitary type called Milkman), family, love, lust, and friends. The author’s style is as claustrophobic as the plot, a discursive style that can expand a paragraph for pages, a style that warps every conversation into a formal debate, a style that sashays like twenty conversations going on in a crowd. “Milkman” is experimental in a long line of such novels, and normally I relish such challenges, but here I floundered. I could admire some of unpicking of issues, I could enjoy sentences, I could appreciate technical skill, but the unusual style sapped the characters, especially Middle Daughter, of any life off the page. Not much happens and when it does, it is not mined for narrative impact. Reading a Booker winner is always a treat, and this novel was a test worth undertaking, but as a novel it is barely readable.

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