Milkman by Anna Burns
A Novel That Echoes Today’s Plight Against Sexual Harassment
By Hana Maher
Anna Burn’s “Milkman” is a 368-page novel that tackles the Northern Ireland conflict from the perspective of an 18-year-old girl. The unnamed young lass has zero interest in the troubles, so much so that she often keeps her head down by burying it in books. In doing so, she unintentionally attracted the unwanted (and extremely gross) sexual attention of a senior paramilitary figure; the Milkman. And as she had marked herself as “beyond-the-pale”, the Milkman subsequently labeled the young woman as his property. Soon, it became public knowledge that she is having an affair with an older AND married man.
But as readers dived deeper into the story, the narrator soon revealed that the young woman had not been having an affair with the Milkman. As a matter of fact, she held no affectionate feelings towards the Milkman and was riddled with fear and confusion as he persisted to woo her and it became even more obvious that the Milkman is a creepy figure. However, due to his status and power within their community, the young woman, unfortunately, had to endure his presence.
Although the events in the novel occurred 40 years ago, the “Milkman” echoes the anxieties of the 21st century — especially regarding terrorism and sexual harassment. The “Milkman” serves as a testimony to the #MeToo movement, with the whole plot summarised into the novel’s first sentence; “The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died.”
“Milkman” won the Man Booker Prize for fiction last year. With a book that dissects the political and cultural tensions in Northern Ireland, coupled with the narrator’s unapologetic knack for disrupting the status quo — by being original, funny, oblique and unique — it’s easy to acknowledge why the book is in a league of its own and why Burns definitely deserved the award.