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Belfast author Anna Burns makes The Man Booker shortlist

Undated handout images issued by Four Colman Getty of Anna Burns with the cover of her novel Milkman, which has been longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday July 24, 2018. See PA story ARTS ManBooker.
Undated handout images issued by Four Colman Getty of Anna Burns with the cover of her novel Milkman, which has been longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday July 24, 2018. See PA story ARTS ManBooker.

Northern Ireland author Anna Burns has been shortlisted for The Man Booker prize for her novel Milkman.

Milkman is set during the Troubles in the late 1970s and tells the story from the perspective of an 18-year-old-girl.

Authors Esi Edugyan, Daisy Johnson, Rachel Kushner, Richard Powers and Robin Robertson are also up for the prestigious literary gong, the winner of which will be announced on October 16.

Announcing the shortlist at a press conference in London, the chair of this year’s judging panel, Kwame Anthony Appiah, said: “All of our six finalists are miracles of stylistic invention. In each of them the language takes centre stage. And yet in every other respect they are remarkably diverse, exploring a multitude of subjects ranging across space and time."

Here’s what reviewers thought of the books on the shortlist…

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail)

Canadian author Esi Edugyan’s vast, brutal, intricate and searching novel sees its eponymous hero, Washington Black, escape slavery via a ‘cloud cutter’. The work of a bumbling Englishman, the clumsy airplane plucks Washington from the trauma and violence of the Barbados plantation he grew up on, and nudges him into a world of international travel and exploration. He paints on river banks on the Canadian frontier, chats with solitary ship captains and dives for octopus, all the while trying to unlatch himself from the past and his English patron. It is an epic adventure, pinned to a scaffold of jeopardy. Edugyan’s descriptions of slavery – and the pained love between Washington and Big Kit, who tries to take care of him – are ferocious and terrifying, yet elegantly wrought. The pacing feels a little off at times (leaping from continent to continent can be wearying), and if the mythical doesn’t enthuse you, you may find yourself skim-reading passages. But this is a bold, determined and often fascinating saga that will sit with you for days.

The Overstory by Richard Powers (William Heinemann)

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Are you curious about the Man Booker shortlist announcement tomorrow? 🙋🏻‍♀️ _ Pictured are my longlist reads to date from favourite (left) to least favourite (right). The graphic novel, Sabrina, is impossible to rank fairly alongside the others, but I found it surprisingly gripping. _ If I were to give a micro-summary of the books so far, I would describe The Overstory as an ode, a symphony, a love letter to the arboreal world. Sabrina reads like a movie storyboard (tense and unsettling), Everything Under like a fable (mythical and otherworldly). The Water Cure left me with the final impression of a thriller, while From a Low and Quiet Sea can be described as a three-part elegy. That leaves In Our Mad and Furious City which I had a hard time connecting with, but which many other readers loved. I would possibly describe that as a rap album - bristly, polyphonic and full of local idiom. _ That said, my shortlist predictions are: _ THE OVERSTORY (I will be incredulous if this does not make the shortlist) NORMAL PEOPLE (still waiting for my copy, but this is heaped in hype and acclaim) SABRINA (because a controversial, rule-breaking nomination can’t simply exit as a longlister, right?) THE LONG TAKE (based on reviews by Oni at @booksandcoffeestains, and other reviewers who predict that this may win) EVERYTHING UNDER (flawed but layered and probably rewarding of a second read) IN OUR MAD AND FURIOUS CITY _ I would love to hear your shortlist thoughts and predictions! Which books are you betting on? _ _ _ #manbookerprize #manbookerprize #manbookershortlist #manbookershortlist2018 #theoverstory #richardpowers #everythingunder #daisyjohnson #thewatercure #sophiemackintosh #fromalowandquietsea #donalryan #inourmadandfuriouscity #guygunaratne #sabrina #nicksrnaso #literature #fiction #literary #literaryfiction #bookish #bibliophile #bookstagram #flatlaybooks #bookstack

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The Overstory brings together the stories of nine strangers. The one thing uniting them is their experiences with trees, and together, they are forced to unite and prevent the destruction of the USA’s last remaining forest.

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson (Jonathan Cape)

Gretel, a lexicographer, has been reunited with her estranged mother Sarah, 16 years after being abandoned as a teenager. Now battling dementia, Sarah struggles to explain her erratic behaviour and Gretel must temper her desire for answers with care for an almost-stranger. Seeping through their fraught household is the half-memory of their life on a narrowboat, when a strange boy called Marcus stayed with them. With Sarah unable to fill in the gaps, Gretel seeks out Marcus’ family, only to uncover yet more questions in this commendable retelling of the classical Oedipus myth. Johnson’s first book, Fen, was a celebrated collection of short stories that evoked the unsettledness of the shifting marshlands of East Anglia. Everything Under continues that sense and explores femininity, family and identity with a timeline and narrators that eddy and clash like sticks thrown into a river. It’s a difficult read at first, but like a current, it soon carries you away.

Milkman by Anna Burns (Faber & Faber)

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I have spent the last week and a half reading Milkman by Anna Burns and it is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most important novels I have ever read. Huge thanks to @Faberbooks for the advance copy. Milkman is out this week! • I feel like I could write a full 50k word dissertation on the relevance of this novel and it wouldn’t be long enough. For years, “Northern Irish” Fiction has been men, men, men. We have all read Cal, Eureka Street, The International, The Good Son... the list of men’s books for men goes on and on. This is the first novel I have ever read that is based a community like my own- and with a woman protagonist to boot! The writing style is stream of consciousness, which makes the narrative very dense and tangled... I loved every bit of the winding backstory, and every ridiculous segue that the hapless narrator ended up on. • The thing that Anna Burns got so right was the absurd depiction of the local community- its complexity and grey areas, how tightly knit and suffocating it can be to live in each other’s pockets, the omnipresent threats from all sides... I’ve never read a novel which more accurately conveys the feeling of being “Northern Irish” (an identity I do not particularly relate to, but would be assigned to me by others) and it somehow explains everything that is unexplainable about living here, but in a way that is somehow lighthearted and bizarre but critical and very serious all at once. • There were so many moments I laughed out loud at, and many familiar turns of phrase that I would never have expected to see in print. The majority of the characters are technically nameless, which seems perfect for the setting, and I loved the narrator’s family, the parts with her younger sisters were among my favourites. The narrator is a bit of an outcast, who is much maligned for many strange activities, such as reading when walking and not paying attention to the world. Every little detail in this novel feels like a metaphor, perhaps adding to how dense and complex it becomes. I’m happy to say I’ll be thinking about this novel for a LONG time to come. • #faberbooks #milkman #annaburns #manbookerprize

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Milkman is set during the Troubles in the late 1970s, and centres around an 18-year-old woman. Names of people and places are deliberately kept vague to cultivate a feeling of uncertainty and universality as the woman tries to navigate her way through a dangerous time. Despite her best efforts, her encounter with Milkman is noticed and rumours start to swirl. This is a complex read full of convoluted language, and builds up a dark, yet at times comic, picture of Northern Ireland.

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (Jonathan Cape)

Rachel Kushner’s second novel The Flamethrowers – a macho tale of motorcycle racing and 1970s political activism – scorched the book charts and divided critics. In her follow-up, the Oregon-born writer restricts her gaze to the drab walls and iron bars of a women’s prison in contemporary America – but Netflix comedy drama Orange Is The New Black this is not. Kushner went undercover in a maximum security facility in order to better embody The Mars Room’s main character, Romy, who is serving a double life sentence for murder. Our sympathies shift to and fro as the details of her crime – and those of her cellmates’ – are skilfully revealed and Kushner takes every opportunity to expose the frailties of the justice system. At times a visceral portrait of prison life, the novel also paints a picture of a seedy outside world which can stealthily suck poor and unfortunate souls into lives of crime.

The Long Take by Robin Robertson (Picador)

Robert Robertson is predominantly a lyric poet and has used this background to create a mix of verse and prose in The Long Take. It follows a young Canadian called Walker who has just fought in World War II and is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Commentators describe the book as having an epic feel to it, as it tracks Walker’s travels through post-war America as he struggles to face up to what he’s witnessed.

The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced on October 16

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