Man Booker winner “Milkman” by Anna Burns is so baffling it’s best read aloud

A piece published on the website of Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them), the political party of which I’m the chairman, in October 2018:

piece by David Sanderson, Arts Correspondent, in today’s Times. Some of the judges are admitting the winning book is a bit crap, with readers having to do more work than Anna Burns, the authoress, although it’s her first novel in 11 years. Not exactly a Dickensian or Shakespearean work rate, is it? Dr Catherine Hakim’s work centredness gender gap comes inevitably to mind. Emphases ours:

A “challenging, experimental” novel that might be easier to understand if read aloud has brought Northern Ireland its first success in the Man Booker prize.

Milkman by Anna Burns was the “unanimous” choice of the panel of jurors, whose chairman, Kwame Anthony Appiah, said that it was “enormously rewarding . . . if you persist with it”.

The novel, Burns’s third, is set against the background of the Troubles in the 1970s with a protagonist facing sexual harassment from a man taking advantage of the “divided society”.

“Challenging, yes,” Mr Appiah said last night. “In the way that a walk up Snowdon is challenging but it is definitely worth it because the view is terrific when you get to the top. It is true that because of the flow of the language and the length of sentences and the fact that some of the language is unfamiliar, that it is not a light read. It is intensive. I spend my time reading articles in the Journal of Philosophy so by my standards it is not too hard. I think this is a novel that is enormously rewarding if you persist with it.”

Burns, 56, said that the £50,000 prize would help to clear the debts accumulated during her years as a penniless writer when she would do “house sits” to make ends meets. She said she spent years moving from house to house while waiting for “characters to come to me”.

The victory for Burns, who was born in Belfast and now lives in East Sussex, comes amid concern at the fading “Booker boost” for shortlisted novels. This year the seven titles that were dropped at the longlist stage have significantly outsold the six whittled down for the shortlist. [J4MB: Thus showing the prize to be utterly divorced from appeal to the general reading public, and therefore utterly pointless as a guide to buying and reading.]

Of the finalists Burns has enjoyed the biggest sales increase, although her book is the only one of the six whose paperback has been released. One of them, Robin Robertson’s novel in verse, The Long Take, has yet to appear in the Nielsen charts.

Mr Appiah, whose colleagues on the jury were the crime writer Val McDermid, the critic Leo Robson, the feminist writer Jacqueline Rose and the graphic novelist Leanne Shapton, said that for the third reading of Milkman he spent a “lot of time reading it out loud”.

“I do commend it to people who find it difficult, try and read it aloud,” he said. “It is very close to the natural speech of a particular person. Saying it out loud gives you that extra dimension. Also it slows you down a bit and that is worth it too because this language is really worth savouring.” Mr Appiah said he was looking forward to listening to the audiobook version.

The jury dodged controversy by choosing Milkman above the two American books on the list, by Richard Powers and Rachel Kushner. If either had won it would have made been the third year in a row than an American novelist had secured the prize, which is still dealing with anger from publishers and authors at the change to its criteria.

Previously only writers from Britain, the Commonwealth and Ireland could enter but that was changed in 2014 to include Americans. Mr Appiah said that no jury member had considered the nationality, or gender, of an author when making their decision. [J4MB: Hilarious.]

Usually the online edition of the Times has more content than the printed edition, but not in this case. The printed edition has the following additional material at the end:

He said that he was “resigned” to it being held up as a novel for the #metoo generation, even though it was set in the 1970s.

Burns becomes the first UK winner of the award since Hilary Mantel in 2012 with Bring Up the Bodies.

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