Milkman! First thoughts…a great feminist book. Second thoughts mostly overwhelmed by the hubbub of the Booker Prize winner in 2018.
An eighteen-year-old girl, the protagonist stalked by an older man. A story set in the nineteen-seventies perhaps in Belfast, Ireland during the ‘Troubles’ (a period of ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland from 1968 to 1998).
A promising premise and I headed straight for my copy of this pink book.
Book Cover Analysis
Pink it is! Pink on the cover. Pink on the inside. Pink immediately processes the word ‘female’ in our heads. And, surely, Milkman is a strong feminist narrative. The reason ‘Milkman’ for most parts reads like a long-ish essay on feminism is because Anna Burns keeps all her characters unnamed, they are rather identified by their places in the protagonist’s life like the wee-sisters, maybe-boyfriend, third brother-in-law, French teacher and so forth.
So far, Pink equals feminism.
Then, reach chapter three, whoosh, the author reclaims the strategy of ‘Pink’ from your head. The unnamed protagonist is in her French class, and the teacher is reading a passage in French. The French lines tell the sky is pink, the students are confused. Is it the language? No, ‘sky is blue’ is a limitation of our mind. The teacher takes her batch of students and makes them look at the sky from their window.
Though as the protagonist steps out of the class, her stalker is waiting outside the class. She may have opened her eyes to the hues of the sky but her problems remain where they were. And, you connect with her. You realize this story permeates the limitations of the geography.
“As for this sky, it was now a mix of pink and lemon with a glow of mauve behind it. It had changed colours during our short trip along the corridor and before our eyes was changing colours yet.”
Another context to understand the importance of pink is its changing meaning in the modern world. At the beginning of the 20th century, pink was widely associated with a ‘sexist’ connotation, a mark of femininity within a patriarchal hierarchy. Now pink is being redefined, this colour is appreciated with the historical subtext it holds. The publishing industry is embracing the effective role of pink in book design to distinguish the genre of feminist literature. In the latest edition of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (originally published in 1949), the book has got a pink makeover.
As ‘Milkman’ is a recent book, there aren’t many variations to the book cover. Not even the UK-US cover difference. This pink cover has a universal presence except for this one edition reissued with a bespoke Liberty fabric cover. (Liberty fabric covered editions bring classics from the Faber backlist together with important modern titles, putting them in conversation and celebrating both the history and the future of Faber & Faber.)
This cover is an overwhelming green and blue mish-mash of houses all over. Perhaps, this cover works more on creating the imagery of the protagonist’s habit of ‘reading-while-walking’.