The Booker Prize was a solid win for independent publishers, going to Irish writer Anna Burns for her novel Milkman. Faber & Faber publishes her in the UK, and Graywolf had purchased rights recently. The US publisher originally had the book scheduled for fall 2019 publication, but has moved the release date up to December 11.
Faber is going back to press for another 100,000 paperbacks in the UK based on strong bookseller demand, after having sold a modest 2,000 hardcovers and 3,500 paperbacks so far.
Chairman of the judges Kwame Anthony Appiah said of the novel, “None of us has ever read anything like this before. Anna Burns’ utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking and form in surprising and immersive prose. It is a story of brutality, sexual encroachment and resistance threaded with mordant humor. Set in a society divided against itself, Milkman explores the insidious forms oppression can take in everyday life.”
The UK press suggests readers may find the work difficult. The Guardian’s Claire Armitstead calls it, “the sort of boldly experimental – and frankly brain-kneading – novel that is usually let in at longlist stage and gently dropped as the competition narrows.” She notes, “It will no doubt baffle many readers and depress a good few booksellers as an opener for the festive sales season, but at least it’s not a vote for the status quo at a time when many have been saying the Booker has lost its mojo since it opened up to the Americans.”
Appiah admits “it is not a light read” but says, “I think this is a novel that is enormously rewarding if you persist with it.” Based on his recommendation, a Times column declares the book “so baffling it’s best read out loud.”
The Booker returned to its normal pattern by picking an underdog. Traditionally the bettors’ favorite has lost, except when the favorite is Hilary Mantel, who won twice, but then last year favorite George Saunders broke the spell. At least some will be relieved to see an Irish winner after Americans won the award the previous three years in a row. Burns is the first Northern Irish winner of the prize.