Milkman by Anna Burns

I need a special rating for books that I’m glad I read but didn’t particularly enjoy. Milkman by Anna Burns is such a book.

There’s much to admire in Milkman. Burns’s unwavering and meticulous stream-of-consciousness account of the Troubles is told through the eyes of our unnamed narrator, an eighteen-year-old girl who comes from a large family impacted by political violence. Although the narrator is trying to distance herself from the turmoil that surrounds her, she is drawn in after being accused of having an affair with a married man known as ‘milkman’ (this is despite the narrator having a ‘maybe-boyfriend’). In fact, the milkman is stalking the narrator, and it is soon revealed that he is a paramilitary figure who holds great power in the community.

As for the community, and my affair with the milkman according to this community, I was now well in it, that being the case whether I was or not. It was put about I had regular engagements with him, rendezvous, intimate ‘dot dot dots’ at various ‘dot dot dot’ places. Continue reading

Sample Saturday – three stories about books

Sample Saturday is when I wade through the eleventy billion samples I have downloaded on my Kindle. I’m slowly chipping away and deciding whether it’s buy or bye. This week, all three samples are ones that I’ve had for years, and all three are stories based around books. Continue reading

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – a literary mix tape

There’s nothing I can say about Douglas Stuart’s 2020 Booker Prize winning novel, Shuggie Bain, that hasn’t already been said. Know that I laughed, I cried, and I ached for Shuggie, his alcoholic mother, Agnes, and his siblings. This story is raw and tender and hopeful and heartbreakingly sad.

In my tradition of not reviewing books that have a squillion reviews on Goodreads, I have instead put together a mix tape, drawing on some favourite passages in the book. Needless to say, I had dozens to choose from in Shuggie.

5/5 Shuggie has my heart. Continue reading

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

When I was sixteen, I visited my grandma one afternoon and, on arriving at her house, found her in tears. The last of the ‘Old Girls’ had died. The ‘Old Girls’ were her life-long friends – a group of women who had met during the War and stayed close for decades. They always referred to themselves as the ‘Old Girls’, even when they were young women. And so suddenly, my grandma was the last Old Girl. It was deeply shocking for me because, until that moment, I had never really thought about friends dying.

This is the subject of Charlotte Wood’s novel, The Weekend. Three friends in their seventies gather for a last weekend at the holiday home of their mutual friend, Sylvie, who has recently died. There’s former restaurateur Jude, organised and bossy; Wendy, an acclaimed intellectual, who continues to write; and beautiful, flighty Adele, a renowned actress whose work has dwindled to almost nothing.  Over the course of the weekend, the dynamics of their relationships are revealed, and the absence of Sylvie felt.

This was something nobody talked about: how death could make you petty. And how you had to find a new arrangement among your friends, shuffling around the gap of the lost one, all of you suddenly mystified by how to be with one another. Continue reading