Northern Irish author Anna Burns' 'Milkman' wins Man Booker Prize

Danny Woods
October 19, 2018

Author Anna Burns was named the victor of the 2018 Man Booker Prize for her novel Milkman at a lavish awards ceremony in London on Tuesday night, becoming the first author from Northern Ireland to win the most prestigious English-language literary award.

Burns is the first author from Northern Ireland to win the prize, and her novel "Milkman" is 348-pages long and is set in an unnamed city in the north of Ireland during the late 1970s.

Purchases of last year's victor, "Lincoln in the Bardo", jumped 1,227 per cent in the week after author George Saunders claimed the award, with almost three-quarters of its sales following the win, according to prize organisers.

Milkman 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.

"I had to move a lot because I couldn't afford it", she said, adding that her first priority would be paying off debts and she would live off the rest of the prize money. The antagonist uses family, social pressure and even political affiliations to harass her. "But we think it'll last it's not just about something that's going on in this moment".

Burns beat five other novelists, including the bookies" favourites: American writer Richard Powers's tree-centric eco-epic "The Overstory" and Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan's "Washington Black', the story of a slave who escapes from a sugar plantation in a hot-air balloon.

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A third consecutive American victor would have revived fears among some United Kingdom writers and publishers that the prize is becoming too US-centric. She has published two previous novels and a novella; her first novel, No Bones, which also takes place in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, was shortlisted for the 2002 Orange Prize for Fiction.

This year's shortlist - whittled down from 13 - pitted four female writers against two men.

Founded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize was originally open to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers. This is a book about more than one thing.

Its list of winners includes numerous giants of the last five decades, from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood, Iris Murdoch to J.M. Coetzee.

In 2017, George Saunders won the Man Booker Prize for Lincoln in the Bardo, making him the second American in a row to win the prize after the Man Booker Foundation chose to change the rules in 2014 to include for consideration of the prize, any novel written in English and published in Britain. "It is definitely worth it because the view is terrific when you get to the top", he said.

"I saw the girl walking along the street reading Ivanhoe in what looked to me like Belfast".

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