CBR10Bingo – Snubbed
Maybe this is a cheat, but I didn’t feel like waiting until September for the shortlist or October for the final prize awarding. Both of these book were longlisted for the Booker Prize this year, and since I had already read a few from the list (Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, The Overstory by Richard Powers, Sabrina by Nick Drnaso, and The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner) none of which I think will win (though Richard Power’s novel is very good, but it’s been two Americans in a row), should win, or in some cases are even tolerable novels (cough cough The Mars Room). So instead I would read two more of the list (the only two I had available to me) and review those, knowing that at least one of them won’t win. The list this year is very strange in a lot of ways with very few heavyweights at all. Ultimately the best of all the novels I’ve read is more or less a tie between Richard Powers and this current review’s Milkman. I have a suspicion the novel to beat will be Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, which sounds awesome and if it is as good as it sounds will be great.
Milkman – 4/5 Stars
I cannot begin to tell you how bizarre and at times wonderful this novel is. It’s truly audacious for a while, and since I went in not knowing at all what the novel was about, when I figured it out and got in sync with it, it was often brilliant. From the outset, not knowing anything, I thought this novel was about a small town or small neighborhood in Northern Ireland or in Belfast in particular, and the ways in which people kept being referred by their title or family referent (“Chef” “Milkman” “Third Brother-in-Law” “Middle Sister”) I figured was a Northern Irish quirk or a quirk of the narrator. And so I figured since I haven’t read many Northern Irish novels, so be it. But when it became slowly clear that we weren’t really, necessarily, or likely dealing with Northern Ireland, and not Northern Ireland during the Troubles of the 1960s and 70s, I was fascinated how amazingly I had been drawn into a weird little either a)loric/fable-like or b)dystopian/post-capitalist world we were inhabiting. This back and forth between exactly the nature of the world is never really revealed, though it is The Earth as we knew it because the narrator reads 19th century novels because she “hate[s] the 20th century,” which, fair enough.
So the novel’s story is about the communal voices of gossip, decency, scandal, and speculation. There’s a paramilitary presence fighting back against the government and everyone who’s not 100% on board is speculated to be involved, but at the same time, our narrator is rumored to be sexually involved with “Milkman” a local figure of intrigue. Through her interactions with her family, her friends, her community, and especially her mother, we begin to see more and more about the world and what mysteries it holds.
You should know going in that there’s a lot of discussion of and in some cases description of sexual violence. Also, this novel is very dense and oblique with its subject matter and it felt like I was reading it through a fog. Something that makes it rewarding, but also might make it too annoying to deal with. I think it works for the novel, but I am not sure everyone will like it.
Snap – 3/5 Stars
I will be a little unfair to this novel in my review because I don’t think it has any real business being nominated. There’s been very good mystery/thriller novels written in more impressive and more skilled ways, but more talented and skilled writers, so to have this novel, which is a perfectly fine novel, be nominated as a kind of quirk of the nominating committee is a little off for me. If Kate Atkinson and Tana French and JK Rowling can’t win a Booker Prize, then this novel cannot either.
So, this is a thriller that starts with two split timelines involving a roadside murder in the late 1990s and then a break-in in the early 2000s. The novel shows us that they must be connected, but it takes a while to really piece it together.
Over all the mystery at the heart of this novel is perfectly interesting and works, but like I said, this novel is pretty unexceptional over all. It’s enjoyable, but shouldn’t even remotely be in the conversation.