Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland author Anna Burns wins Man Booker prize

Northern Ireland author Anna Burns has won the Man Booker prize for her novel Milkman.

A tale of sexual coercion, Milkman is set during the late 1970s and tells the story from the perspective of an 18-year-old-girl.

Known only as Middle Sister the girl encounters sex, sectarianism and social coercion in an unnamed province.

The book charts the course of a young girl with an ambivalent attitude to the paramilitary violence around her, struggling to combat unwanted sexual advances and the pernicious power of gossip.

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.

Welcomed as a novel that will "help people think about Me Too", it has also been praised for a unique first-person voice rich in the conversational language of Northern Ireland and its handling of universal problems facing women and outsiders.

"This is a complex read full of convoluted language, and builds up a dark, yet at times comic, picture of Northern Ireland," the judges said.

Judges said they did not consider the current prominence of Northern Ireland or the gender equality debate in their deliberations, nor the accessibility of the book to the average reader.

Anna Burns is the first Northern Ireland author to win the prize and the first UK winner since Hilary Mantel in 2012. She takes home a £50,000 prize.

Milkman - Burns' fourth book - has been hailed as a book that "will last" by the chairman of the panel of judges, philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, who said the novel was as useful for thinking about fractured societies in Lebanon and Syria as it was for the current gender debate in the West.

The chairman said the panel's deliberations had been friendly and the decision entirely unanimous, adding that there was no need for a vote and the choice was clear for the judges.

Appiah said at a ceremony at the Guildhall in London: "It speaks to the future. I think it's going to last.

"I think this will help people to think about Me Too. It's not just about something that is going on in this moment.

"This is about the way in which men and women put pressure on a young girl to do things sexually that she doesn't want to do. It had to do with a masculine environment.

"This is particular, but it's brilliantly universal. It's in the context of a sectarian, divided society."

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