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Book about a young woman sexually harassed by a powerful man in Troubles Ireland wins Man Booker

Book about a young woman sexually harassed by a powerful man in Troubles Ireland wins Man Booker

Anna Burns, a Northern Irish writer, has won the 2018 Man Booker prize, beating shortlisted authors Richard Powers (who was touted as the ‘clear favourite’) and Daisy Johnson, who at 27 is the young author ever to be shortlisted for the prize. 

Burns’ winning book, Milkman, follows a bookish girl in Troubles-era Ireland who attracts the unwanted sexual attention of a senior paramilitary figure, the ‘milkman’. 

The specific location of the novel is never supplied, and the characters of the novel are also nameless. The main character is referred to as the ‘middle sister’, and another character goes by ‘Somebody McSomebody’. 

‘The book didn’t work with names. It lost power and atmosphere and turned into a lesser – or perhaps just a different – book,’ explained Burns. ‘In the early days I tried out names a few times, but the book wouldn’t stand for it. The narrative would become heavy and lifeless and refuse to move on until I took them out again. Sometimes the book threw them out itself.’ 

The judges were unanimous in their decision to award Milkman the prize, describing the novel as ‘incredibly original’.

The chair of the prize, Kwame Anthony Appiah, said that part of the novel’s appeal is that it engages with the #MeToo movement and society’s reckoning with widespread sexual harassment and assault.

‘I think this novel will help people think about #MeToo ... It is to be commended for giving us a deep and subtle and morally and intellectually challenging picture of what #MeToo is about.’

Anna Burns is the first writer from Northern Ireland who has won the Booker, and takes home the £50,000 prize.

Good Reading's Jennifer Sommerville writes the book 'makes for compelling, powerful reading amid the torrents of words in which readers could lose themselves'. Read the full review.