The Unsaid

For the first time in a long time I read a book with a unique voice. We enter the head of nameless middle daughter as she makes her way around a nameless and divided city while reading. This simple act of reading while walking attracts the last thing she wants which is attention. Especially the attention of one man in the neighbourhood; milkman.

What follows is a stream of consciousness remembrance of the events jumping from one event to the next, recalling past and future instances of the same actions, like making tea, and a continuous commentary on the society and the endless list of things that must be remembered to navigate the sectarian divide.

In some ways not a lot happens but this perfectly mirrors the fact that in the society perception and rumours are sometimes more important than actions. The sense of isolation while living in a society that is fully dependent on each other, that does not tolerate difference, is captured. There is an excess of pain and loss in this community so much so that an ordinary death has become incomprehensible and must be tied in some way back to the politics. Both sides are shown to be deadened by this divide, preventing anyone from looking up, from seeing anything other than politics. The community polices itself, preventing and punishing people from standing out, from displaying differences and of course from showing any respect to the symbols or ideas of the other side. Some things do bridge the divide but they are rare and a source of wonder for all.

This is not a book to skim, as her stream of consciousness travels widely; if you don’t pay attention you could end up very lost. Similarly it can be a tiring read, where breaks may be needed. And if the narrator’s voice annoys you then there is little chance you will enjoy it.

I did enjoy it, after adjusting to the voice and concentrating as needed. It was compelling and vaguely familiar from a childhood listening to morning Ireland radio show in the eighties with lists of killings and intimations about causes.

Picture of the book Milkman by Anna Burns stating it won the Mann Booker prize 2018

Throughout the book the dominance of the unspoken and the unsaid is brilliantly portrayed.

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