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Focus on Milkman – Man Booker Prize 2018

The Man Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for five decades. Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.

The full shortlist of six titles can be found here, but in this series of articles we will look at each title in detail.


In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous…

Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

Thoughts on the book

Preschool Parents’ Book Club is one of the groups shadowing the Prize this year and have been reading Milkman:

“Shadowing the Man Booker during its 50th year was a great experience as it showed us insights into the challenge judges face when evaluating books nominated for this prestigious book prize – from teasing apart its narrative and themes, to understanding what made this book stand out to make the shortlist. Milkman by Anna Burns, our allocated book was not a book we might have naturally chosen as a book club read and this made us ‘step up to the challenge’ and get out of our reading comfort zone.

During our meeting there was divided opinion regarding the writing style; the ‘stream of consciousness’ narrative and the ’nameless’ characters were different to normal reads and we agreed that it forced you to focus and commit time to engage with the book more than other books. Some members found it difficult to read while others, whilst initially put off by the style were determined to complete reading the book after other members commented that the style was the perfect way to tell Middle Sister’s story of living in her claustrophobic world of hearsay within the 1970s ‘Troubles’.

Themes of the book were discussed and members agreed that although you were experiencing Middle Sister’s life in the 1970s, there was a timeless dystopian feel to the book that could be readily applied to living today. We discussed the book in context to current wars, social media, power, families, ‘pride & prejudice’ themes and #MeToo. Other discussion points included how important ‘namelessness’ was within the story and how skewed a world can be when it is ‘normal’ to carry Semtex but ‘beyond the pale’ to be seen ‘reading-while-walking’. We discussed the importance of reading for mental wellbeing in context to the book and why reading for wellbeing is important to our book club. We then tried ‘reading while walking’ – a real skill!

Reading a shortlisted book for a major award was an honour. Whilst the time frame was short, it made us actively reflect on our reading and gave us a sense of pride at being able to read, discuss and review the book whilst juggling limited time and looking after small children. It was a fantastic experience, made more so when we found out it had won!”

Get involved

Have you read Milkman? Do you want to know what other readers thought? Leave your own review online.

What to know more? Download a Readers’ Guide for Milkman, including information about the author, as well as some discussion notes and themed reading.

Want ideas on what to read next? We’ve created a supporting booklist with suggestions of other books that you might like to try if you enjoyed Milkman, including books with similar locations, writing styles or genres.

Find out about the other reading groups shadowing the Man Booker Prize and take a look at their reviews of the shortlist.


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