Anna Burns won the 2018 Man Booker Prize for her third novel, “Milkman.” Burns, 56, is the first writer from Northern Ireland to win the Booker. She accepted the prize tonight at a lavish ceremony in London.
Burns’s dark, experimental novel is about a bookish 18-year-old girl harassed by a paramilitary figure called the milkman during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The book was initially set to be published in the United States next fall, but Graywolf Press announced tonight that “Milkman” will be released on Dec. 11.
“’Milkman’ is a novel of tremendous power and verve, and the voice of middle sister, who rallies against the pervasive influence of the patriarchy, is still ringing in our ears,” said Graywolf editor Steve Woodward in a statement released immediately after the prize was announced. “This is a historic recognition for a book and author that are more than equal to the moment.”
In an interview posted by the Booker Prize foundation, Burns said that “Milkman” was inspired by her own experience. “I grew up in a place that was rife with violence, distrust and paranoia, and peopled by individuals trying to navigate and survive in that world as best as they could.”
The Booker prize, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is worth about $66,000. For the winner, it usually results in dramatically increased sales around the world, which will be welcome news to the lucky publisher. According to the Guardian, none of this year’s finalists has so far sold more than 6,000 copies in the U.K.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the judges, spoke of the “sheer exhilaration” of reading this year’s finalists.
The other finalists vying for the 2018 Man Booker Prize were:
●“Washington Black” (Knopf), by Esi Edugyan (Canada). Edugyan’s 2011 novel, “Half-Blood Blues,” was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Her new novel is about a young slave who escapes from a plantation in Barbados by hot-air balloon. (Full review here.)
●“Everything Under,” by Daisy Johnson (U.K.). Had she won, debut novelist Johnson, 27, would have been the youngest Booker winner ever. Her novel is a modern-day retelling of a classical myth that imagines Oedipus as a female lexicographer. It will be published next week in the United States by Graywolf Press in Minneapolis.
●“The Mars Room” (Scribner), by Rachel Kushner (U.S.). Kushner, a two-time finalist for the National Book Award, sets her latest novel in a women’s prison in California. It tells the story of a woman imprisoned for killing an abusive man who was stalking her. (Full review here.)
●“The Overstory” (Norton), by Richard Powers (U.S.). In this environmental novel, Powers, a MacArthur “genius” and National Book Award winner, tells a complex, multi-part story about trees and people who dedicate their lives to saving them. (Full review here.)
●“The Long Take,” by Robin Robertson (U.K.). This unusual book mixes poetry and prose to tell the story of a traumatized World War II veteran who has left his home in Nova Scotia to see America. It inspired debate about how it should be categorized — as a novel or a long poem? It will be published in the United States in November by Knopf.
Kwame Anthony Appiah served as the chairman of this year’s judges, who included Val McDermid, Leo Robson, Jacqueline Rose and Leanne Shapton.
Last year’s Booker Prize went to “Lincoln in the Bardo,” by American writer George Saunders.
The Booker Prize was closed to Americans until 2014, when the eligibility rules were expanded to include writers beyond the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe. The wisdom of that change continues to be fiercely debated by critics on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post and hosts TotallyHipVideoBookReview.com.