Let's discuss MILKMAN by Anna Burns

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The Man Booker Prize for Fiction for 2018 went to MILKMAN by Anna Burns, pictured above. It's the first time a Northern Irish writer has been awarded the prize.

The book presents an unnamed 18-year-old girl's perspective on her life which is ensnared by the politics of the "Troubles" in late 20th century Northern Ireland which pitted neighbors and communities against each other and divided the nation into factions and mini-factions. But it could be anywhere.

In an unnamed town in an unnamed country, the narrator referred to as Middle Sister, is trying to figure out her life and its proper direction against what other people expect for her -- her parents, her older siblings, her friends, the community, the church. None of the characters are named except through their relationship to the Narrator (e.g., Elder Sister, Second Sister, Brother-in-Law) or through an occupation or preoccupation (e.g., Chef).

But one thing is true of all these overseers of our portagonist's behavior.
They want her to stop reading while walking. Her quiet beauty and solitary nature have drawn the unwanted attentions of an older man, referred to only as Milkman. He is a powerful member of the paramilitary in this town. He becomes her stalker, her nemesis, her nightmare. He won't leave her alone and even makes threats against a man she care for, whom she calls her "maybe boyfriend."

Everyone in this small closed community is deeply involved in side-taking, making judgments, and policing the behavior of others. No one believes she is not willingly involved with the Milkman. Even her best friend, to whom she turns for help against this threat, only scolds her for reading while walking which brings scrutiny on her and singles her out for being different from everyone else.

This is a lovely book. The narrator's voice is original -- observing, reflecting, smart, funny, grim, and very real. The sexism and violence depicted here are not unique to Northern Island, nor are they unfamiliar to us.

There are wonderful minor characters. My favorites are the Wee Sisters, a precocious threesome, who dress up in their sister's clothes to practice ballroom dancing and take the phone apart every time it rings looking for bugs although they have no idea what these might be or what they might look like.