Milkman Review

Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman is a story of the every day, in normal times, that is set during a conflict at one of the most unusual times in our protagonist’s life. It is a story of how nothing happening is just as, if not more, frightening than when something does happen. For Middle Sister, the threat of Milkman is much more sinister than the reality of him. 

Throughout this book, we are constantly reminded of how the suggestion of something can become the truth regardless of what is happening in reality. Middle Sister’s community all believe her to be going out with Milkman when this is not the case, he is imposing himself on her life gently but in a way that consumes all other aspects of her life. The idea that nothing is happening yet something happened is taken to have two meanings all the time. For everyone else, that means that the two are a couple and therefore Middle Sister is being reckless with her life, but Middle Sister knows this to not be true. Milkman has never threatened her or done anything illegal but he knows too much, assumes too much and knows how to present himself so that he appears to not be the bad person in this story.

With no one to turn to, no one who will belive her, Middle Sister is all alone. It is a story that we see so many times in the news about violence against women that isn’t really there until it is. The truth only seems to come out once the real Middle Sister’s are dead or injured when the threat stops being a threat and becomes real. The theme of violence against women is explored not through acts but through suggestions and implications and how the way our communities and societies view the victims often does the rest of the work. While this is not Middle Sister’s every day, the story of Middle Sister is happening every day.

The other thread that holds this story together is the conflict that rages on yet doesn’t seem to happen. It is a reminder that during the worst wars, life continues. People die, but they don’t have names. Places are destroyed, but they are not in our immediate surroundings. Events happen, but only in newspapers or in the words from our neighbour’s lips. Everything is a ghost of the horror that it is, an implication or a threat that isn’t tangible enough to act on yet that looms in the background. This conflict is everywhere, anywhere and nowhere. There is no action yet every act is defined by it.

This story is based on the events that took place during the conflict in Ireland but it has been censored in a way that means that it could be any conflict at any time. The people and places have generic names that allow you to slip into this world and out again without ever being noticed by anyone because everyone is no one. No one in this book is special because the story is common and that is why it is so important. Everything is a ghost of its self, a threat of reality and that is crucial. Just as Milkman threatens to take over Middles Sister’s life, the dangers in this book are a constant threat that could take over ours.

4 Stars

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