Faber Book Club 1: Milkman by Anna Burns
The Faber Book Club
Our online book club is run by Faber Members, but open to all. Each month Faber staff from across the company select key works from current releases to classic texts. We release a monthly set of suggested questions around titles selected, as well as holding events three times a year for further discussion.
Milkman by Anna Burns
Questions by Louisa Joyner, Associate Publisher
WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2018
WINNER OF THE INTERNATIONAL DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD 2020
In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous…
Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.
Suggested Questions on Milkman:
- Consciousness is terrifically fashionable in writing at the moment (the decision with awful consequences that unravel a village, the conspiracy theory thriller or even comedies featuring thoughtful characters that narrate their inner lives to us). But Milkman explores the unconscious – the parts of our lives and brains we cannot articulate. How does the book deal with Middle Sister and her inability to express their feelings? What are the consequences for other characters?
- Some critics see this as a ‘stream of consciousness’ novel whereas others see it more a vernacular novel – in the spirit of works like Saturday Night, Sunday Morning and Look Back in Anger. Where did it sit for you as a reader, and how does seeing this book as a record of conversation as told by Middle Sister as opposed to entirely being inside her head change the book for you?
- Milkman has also been described as ‘fugal’ with motifs (like the milkman himself, tablets girl, the wee sisters and third brother-in-law) who weave throughout the novel. Were there particular strands that worked for you as a reader – or threads like the story of maybe-boyfriend that had particular impact? Again does seeing the novel as a weaving together different stories change your perception of it?
- Families and relationships are hugely important in this novel – both positively and negatively impacting the novel. Which familial relationships felt particularly significant to you? Were there any you wanted to know more about off the page?
- Specificity – the naming of place and the naming of characters – has come up a great deal. Was this something you had strong views on as a reader. As an exercise you might try to substitute names in for characters on a page or two and see how that alters your relationship to the work?
- How important do you think a knowledge of Belfast and The Troubles is to a reading of It has been a huge hit in India and China as well as across Europe all celebrating different qualities in the book, reading it as everything from political document to dystopian novel, so it might be interesting to reflect on your particular cultural engagement with this novel and how it may have influenced your sense of the book itself.