Milkman by Anna Burns : BOOK REVIEW

‘Coffin after coffin

Seemed to float from the door

Of the packed cathedral

Like blossoms on slow water.’

Seamus Heaney

Northern Ireland has been a state fraught with conflict and violence since time immemorial. The period of The Troubles (late-1960s to 1998) has been one of the most significant periods of unrest in Northern Ireland which had its origin in the Catholic-Protestant fiasco. The former vouched for the rule of the Catholics giving Northern Ireland independence from the British rule whereas the latter believed in the goodwill of the monarchy of the ‘over the water’ in Northern Ireland. The civil war that struck the landmass had rippling effects across Europe and the land ‘over the water’ too. The magnitude and the catastrophic impact of the unrest were widely captured by Irish poets and writers. To name, Seamus Heaney in his collections North (1975) and Field Work (1979) has captured the apocalypse that had struck Northern Ireland and the loss of innocent lives due to the political turmoil engulfing the nation.

The war may have subsided but its impact still resonates in the families residing in Northern Ireland. Born and bred in Northern Ireland, and The Man Booker Prize Winner of 2018 for her book Milkman, Anna Burns excavates the political unrest and turmoil during The Troubles in an unnamed city of Northern Ireland through her 18-year old narrator in the aforementioned, award-winning novel. The novel captures the feud and its consequences in the lives of the people in the most brutal and realistic manner. The book begins with the narrator making her circumstances known to the reader- about her may-be boyfriend, her rendezvous with the milkman and her resolution to keep mum about it, however, things don’t turn out the way she intended them to and gossips of her strange meeting spill out in the war-torn society and the narration gradually starts to uncover the aspects of the social situation persisting around her.

Anna Burns’ resolution to delineate the atrocities of the civil war is praiseworthy. In my opinion, the author has covered a multitude of themes and aspects of social life in the historical fiction unmasking what a war could do to a society and its individuals in general, and a religiously orthodox society in particular. What stood out most in the story was the fiercely involved yet a peculiarly detached voice of the narrator, an 18-year old girl viewing war and society around her; I could imagine Saoirse Ronan excellently pulling off the role of the narrator if a film were ever to be made on this book. However, I would admit that in the first 150-180 pages the willingness to continue with the book would not develop and one would want to put it aside because of the world-building that goes into the narration. The narrator grasps the attention of the readers by narrating an incident taking place that moves the plot and then the narrator goes into recollection or traces the historicity of the incident and that did get slightly dry but once one crosses 150-180 pages, one gets attuned to the world the narrator has chalked out and the story starts to fall into place. The author has brilliantly mapped a dogmatic, war-torn, orthodox society and yet a society of the West by emphasising on the aspects of child marriage, teenage pregnancies leading to irresponsible parents and juvenile delinquency, sexual violence against both men and women, toxic masculinity, the mental impacts of stalking and gossips in society, exploration of the catholic faith, social exclusion, insecurity of old age most importantly, the feminine identity. Burns’ modicum to bring out the identity of the woman and a girl in society through her narrator is one of the highlights of the novel. The book deals with the status of a girl in society, the threats they are continuously posited owing to their feminine identity on a day-to-day basis, and the insecurity with losing the charm and being less attractive for the man; the author has shed light on it by the use of various characters in the girl’s narration. My favourite aspect of this book would be the love stories in the novel; some broke my heart into pieces and some warmed my heart. Alongside, the characters, Milkman and the real milkman, the contrast both the characters offered were crucial to the story and in a way both the characters were symbolic, one symbolised the turmoil killing Northern Ireland and the other represented the people of Northern Ireland and the humanity that lay underneath the rebellious, dystopic façade.

‘I who have stood dumb

when your betraying sisters,

cauled in tar,

wept by the railings,’

Seamus Heaney

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Feats of Valour, Wicked Horns

‘Something, someone, some spirit was pursuing all of us across the desert of life and was bound to catch us before we reached heaven.’

-Jack Kerouac

Being born to a family in a metropolis, fortunately, I have never felt religion being imposed upon me. However, the drawback of this lack of imposition is that I have heard very few stories mentioned in the Vedas and other religious texts. Nonetheless, I believe nothing can be out of one’s reach if one is a reader. My belief was proven by an email I received from one of India’s best-selling author, Anuja Chandramouli. She blessed me with a copy of her widely acclaimed novel Yama’s Lieutenant.

The novel opens up with a scene unfolding one of  the sweetest bonds a human being ever gets to share with one another in her/his lifetime. The story starts gaining momentum when the readers are slowly brought face-to-face with the forces of hell, heaven and earth colliding and the universe heading for war and destruction. Agni Prakash, the protagonist, picks up a manuscript left by his twin sister and realises a new dimension to his life that he has never discovered before.

What does the manuscript contain?

What will Agni Prakash realise?

Will his realisations be any good for the world that is leading to an apocalypse?

‘But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?’

-Anthony Doerr

To begin with, I really liked the way the novel began and I couldn’t have asked for anything better to prepare a reader for a book packed with fantastical and mythological adventure. I was impressed by the author’s inclusion of caste violence as it seems to be an issue persisting in the Indian society since time immemorial. On the down side, I seemed to be a little confused with the story as there were a lot of characters and I had to re-read things to get it clear. Being a reader not akin to fantasy, I did feel lost in between the world-building. Admittedly, I took to the chapters in the manuscript and I loved the way the novel drew to a bitter-sweet close. Lastly, I would like to thank Chandramouli for letting me read her work as I got to know about a varied set of characters from the Rig Veda that I hadn’t known before.

 

Spectre Museum

After having read a humongous amount of books from a wide variety of genres, I have finally figured out the genre that pleases me the most. *DRUM ROLLS* No other genre of literature quenches my thirst for reading as much as Historical Fiction.

Observing the love being showered on the Pulitzer Prize winner of 2015, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I decided to give this fiction a try. Doerr brings into life the siege, bombardments and the terror of World War II through the memoirs of his two young protagonists, Werner and Marie-Laurie. He sketches the voyage of Werner from his little home in a French countryside to tracking radio waves for Hitler’s army and Marie-Laurie’s sightless journey from Paris to Saint-Malo with the Sea of Flames.

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Needless to say, I adored the work with all my heart and I am happy to have read this masterpiece. I loved the descriptions the author paints to delineate the cruelty experienced by people at the outset of the war. Very few authors have talked about the pain France had to undergo during the war, at least I haven’t read anything related to France being victimized during the World Wars. My heart went out to all the characters in the book, be it the German or French, victims or the terrorists, because everyone had the other side to their story. Each character lost something crucial in their lives because pain never felt the need to resort to only one. However, I wouldn’t say this is my favourite historical fiction set in World War II, there are other books I liked better.  Anyway, it was a good read and I rated this book 4.75/5 on goodreads.