It took me a while to get on with this book, Milkman is written in a different voice and tone, but by the halfway point, the book started to work for me, in all the best ways. Anna Burns writes about an unknown place, where people live in separate districts, where there is the country over the sea that is hated, and where middle sister is trying her best in life.
The language and the way no one had a name works perfectly for the book, middle sister could be anyone, she is easy to relate to, as she walks and reads and people find her strange. But middle sister is living life in a world where there is no thinking, really, and most of the world does as its told by those in authority. She reads to escape, she goes to classes to learn new things and because of the teacher in her French class, the world opens up in bits and pieces.
Milkman is a great story, funny at times, and poignant at others and I grew to be intrigued with the world Burns created, I have thoughts about the influences, but I would love to talk with her about it.
If what she was saying was true, that the sky – out there – not out there – whatever – could be any colour, that meant anything could be any colour, that anything could be anything, that anything could happen, at any time, in any place, in the whole of the world, and to anybody – probably had too, only we just hadn’t noticed. So no. After generation upon generation, fathers upon forefathers, mothers upon foremothers, centuries and millennia of being one colour officially and three colours unofficially, a colourful sky, just like that, could not be allowed to be. (loc 1114)
…it was at that moment, just as I was thinking, what the fuck are they— that something out there – or something in me – then changed. It fell into place because now, instead of blue, blue and more blue – the official blue everyone understood and thought was up there – the truth hit my senses. It became clear as I gazed that there was no blue out there at all. For the first time I saw colours, just as a week later in this French class also was I seeing colours. On both occasions, these colours were blending and mixing, sliding and extending, new colours arriving, all colours combining, colours going on forever, except one which was missing, which was blue. (loc 1174)
Which was why, eighteen years old, I didn’t talk about the renouncers, was unwilling to reflect upon them, pulled down shutters against the topic of them. It was that I wanted to stay as sane in my mind as I thought then I was. (loc 1759)
If he could acknowledge one of the unmentionables, also acknowledge he was unable to do anything to alter this unmentionable, maybe that meant it might be possible for anybody – for me – even in powerlessness, to adopt such an attitude of acknowledgement, of acceptance and detachment too. (loc 2226)
‘Just because I’m outnumbered in my reading-while-walking,’ I said, ‘doesn’t mean I’m wrong. What if one person happened to be sane, longest friend, against a whole background, a race mind, that wasn’t sane, that person would probably be viewed by the mass consciousness as mad – but would that person be mad?’ (loc 3077)
Of course there was the big one, the biggest reason for not marrying the right spouse. If you married that one, the one you loved and desired and who loved and desired you back, with the union proving true and good and replete with the most fulfilling happiness, well, what if this wonderful spouse didn’t fall out of love with you, or you with them, and neither of you either, got killed in the political problems? All those joyful evers and infinites? Are you sure, really, really sure, you could cope with the prospect of that? (loc 3912)
So it was, while standing in our kitchen digesting this bit of consequence, that I came to understand how much I’d been closed down, how much I’d been thwarted into a carefully constructed nothingness by that man. Also by the community, by the very mental atmosphere, that minutiae of invasion. (loc 4632)