Belfast author Anna Burns' third novel in running for £50,000 Man Booker prize
A Belfast-born writer whose work has been compared to James Joyce and Samuel Beckett has been longlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize for her latest novel.
Anna Burns' nomination for Milkman was applauded by the Irish Embassy in London, which welcomed the inclusion of two authors from the Republic in the longlist of 13 writers in line for the £50,000 award.
The embassy tweeted that it was "a fantastic day for contemporary Irish literature with three Irish writers on the long list".
The 55-year-old Ardoyne woman has lived in England for more than 30 years. She moved from Belfast in 1987 while in her mid-20s, and at one time lived in Notting Hill in London before moving to east Sussex.
Milkman, published by Faber & Faber, is her third novel and it has received enthusiastic reviews in all the main newspapers and literary magazines in Britain.
It tells the story of a teenager's encounters with a sinister milkman who is a married man with a reputation for grooming young girls like her, and who is also a member of a paramilitary organisation.
In Milkman, the narrator, who goes only by the name 'Middle Sister', lives in an unnamed town which critics have assumed is Belfast.
One critic wrote that it was "set against a bomb-shattered landscape rendered toxic by a climate of prejudice, intimidation, suspicion and half-truths".
He added: "If Beckett had written a prose poem about the Troubles, it would read a lot like this."
Another reviewer said: "Although the novel is set in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, it prompts thoughts of other regimes and their impact: Stalinist Russia, the Taliban. Medieval witchhunts, the Skripal poisoning and the #MeToo movement also sprang to mind while reading it. Despite the surreality, everything about this novel rings true."
The judges said of the book: "At turns frightening and inspirational, Milkman is stylistically utterly distinctive. At the intersection of class, race, gender and sexual violence, it deals with oppression and power with a Beckettian sense of humour, offering a wholly original take on Ireland in the time of the Troubles through the mind of a young girl."
Two other Irish writers are on the longlist - Sally Rooney from Co Mayo for her book Normal People, and Donal Ryan for his novel From A Low And Quiet Sea. It's his second longlisting.
RTE said only two Irish writers were on the list, but it was criticised on social media. "Anna Burns - born Belfast and lived there for 25 years," said one tweet.
Her first book, No Bones, published 17 years ago, was about a young girl growing up in Belfast during the Troubles.
It was praised for using the everyday language of Belfast people in the way that James Joyce did with the residents of Dublin.
However, writer, critic and former Sinn Fein publicity director Danny Morrison wasn't overly impressed.
He said No Bones didn't work and came across as desperate plotting, but he added: "With a bit more discipline or a bit more guidance Anna Burns will write a far superior second novel, even though she will dislike me for a long time."
No Bones won the 2001 Winifred Holtby memorial prize for the best regional novel of the year in the British Isles. The book was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize.
She published her second novel, Little Construction, in 2007, and a novella, Mostly Hero, seven years later.
The 13 books which are on the longlist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize were selected by a panel of five judges from 171 submissions, the highest number of titles put forward in the prize's 50-year history.
The panel of judges included Scottish crime novelist Val McDermid and feminist writer and critic Jacqueline Rose.
It's the first year that novels published in Ireland have been eligible for the prize. Organisers said the rule change was designed to recognise the special relationship between the UK and Irish publishing markets.
Five of the writers on the longlist are from North America. For the first time ever a graphic novel is included on the longlist.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on Thursday, September 20 and the overall winner will be revealed at a televised black-tie dinner in London's Guildhall on Tuesday, October 16.
Literary sources say the importance of a Man Booker win is immense.
Sales of last year's winner, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders increased by 1,227% after receiving the prize.