- 17 Oct 18
Anna Burns' devastating, original account of living in Belfast during the troubles saw out competition to win the 2018 award.
Irish writer Anna Burns has won the 2018 Man Booker prize with Milkman. A US deal has also now been secured for the experimental novel, which had not been aimed to set the best sellers alight – but which will now doubtless be on many people’s Christmas shopping lists.
It is a remarkable achievement for the 56 year-old writer, with what is just her third novel. Her debut No Bones was published in 2001 and it described the life of a young girl growing up during the Troubles. Highly rated as one of the finest Troubles novels, in a sense it was a precursor to Milkman – which is also set in Troubles-era Northern Ireland. No Bones won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize in 2001, which is awarded by the Royal Society of Literature, for the best regional novel of the year in the UK and Ireland.
“None of us has ever read anything like this before,” the chair of the Booker judges, philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah said, when he made the announcement at a dinner held at the Guildhall in London. “Anna Burns’s utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking and form in surprising and immersive prose. It is a story of brutality, sexual encroachment and resistance, threaded with mordant humour.”
He also referred to the currency of the work, and its relevance to the issue of sexual encroachment.
“I think this novel will help people think about #MeToo,” he said. "It is to be commended for giving us a deep and subtle, and morally and intellectually challenging, picture of what #MeToo is about.”
In a manner not dissimilar to Mike McCormack’s celebrated, award winning Solar Bones, much of Milkman is written without resort to paragraphs.
Anna Burns gave a fascinating insight into the way she approaches her work, saying that what was required of her was "to show up and be present and attend."
"It’s a waiting process,” she stated, adding that as a writer, she “just had to wait for my characters to tell me their stories”.
As to what she will so with the £50,000 prize money, she said that she will clear her debts and live on what is left.
Other Irish writers to win the Booker Prize include Roddy Doyle, John Banville and Anne Enright.
"This is an astonishing time for Irish prose fiction,” the chair of the Arts Council, Sheila Pratschke said, “and the Arts Council is delighted at the news that Anna Burns has won the 2018 Man Booker Prize for her brave and original third novel, Milkman.
"Whether through our support for bursaries to individuals, or through our funding to independent literary presses and journals, the Arts Council’s policy and strategy for literature is firmly focused on writers and their needs," she added. "The Arts Council works tirelessly to create the best conditions for writers to make their best work, and it is enormously encouraging to see an Irish writer recognised by the Booker judges.”
Anna Burns comes from what has been described as a working class Catholic background in Belfast. She was raised in Ardoyne. She currently lives in East Sussex, in the south of England.