A challenging read with as much newspeak as an Orwell novel, Man Booker prize winner, Milkman, keeps us working, whilst reading, which is perhaps one of the reasons for the prestige. Set in an unnamed city, which appears to be based on Belfast, in this world being quirky is harmful. Protagonist, Middle Sister, attempts to keep her Maybe-Boyfriend out of sight and earshot of her mum. She also attempts to keep her encounter with the sinister Milkman under wraps but it doesn’t take long before she is the talk of the town and rumours begin to emerge. A beguiling tale with much to loathe within this society, Milkman is a read which pulls you into this world, which has much “beyond-the-pale.”
A tale of gossip and hearsay, there is much going on within this narrative that is detached from the main plot, there is much that depicts these small towns that requires gossip for narrative, as very little actually goes on. Hence, Middle Sister’s encounter with Milkman becoming more than just an encounter through the means of whispers.
Based during the height of the Troubles in the late ’70s, albeit vaguely resembling, rather than explicit, the narrator guides u through her experiences, which collided with unyielding gossip and politically difficult times.
The language keeps the synopsis vague, with the narrative hanging on themes rather than plot. Names are replaced by position in the tale, as Third Brother-In-Law and Maybe-Boyfriend are precisely that to the protagonist. Middle Sister seems to have a stalker, the Milkman, who is married and a “renouncer of the state.”characters are referenced using their place in the story. This is the root cause of the wagging tongues, well, that and her interesting habits of “reading-while-walking”. The characters are interesting but I feel we only really get to know them from a distance, the lack of identity and personalisation keeps this at bay.
The language is very interesting, divisive and collective in identity, rather than personal and individual, perhaps reflective of this current society. With prose that is less succinct and more a stream-of-consciousness, we are offered an astute insight into a surveilled society that pinpoints interesting as trouble, heightening anxiety, with an underlying feminist commentary.
Challenging, wordy yet with a fresh use of prose, Milkman was understandably an acclaimed award-winner, thought-provoking and yet coldly distant and observational in style.
Milkman is out now, published by Faber & Faber.