Folks, I have discovered a perfect novel.
Others apparently agree that it’s really great, because it won the 2018 Man Booker Prize. This prize is awarded, according to the Booker Prizes website, to “the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.” This novel is certainly that . . . or anyway, it is the best of those I have personally read (an admittedly small percentage!).
But I would also argue that it’s one of the best novels of all time: especially as regards flawlessness. Since I was a kid, I have had something of an obsession with perfection. I’m always on the lookout for the perfect can opener, the perfect hybrid bicycle, the perfect cutting board, the perfect pair of running shoes. And the perfect novel.
Those last are few and far between. There are many great, classic novels; but a lot of them are flawed. Huckleberry Finn is one of the best novels ever written in the English language; but its ending is a travesty (see the more in-depth discussion of this and other of the book’s flaws in this article I wrote about books to read before college). The Scarlet Letter is brilliant; but its long sentences and abstruse language can be difficult to ingest. Other great, classic works of literature have powerful components and sections that one can arrive at only by wading through a whole lot of monotonous drivel. Many novels, moreover, are saddled with a boring or gimmicky or inappropriate title, or a cover image that doesn’t quite fit.
The 2018 novel Milkman, by Anna Burns, has none of these defects. This is a novel that feeds the reader a steady diet of insights and delights, from beginning to end.
Let me count this novel’s virtues! The language is wildly original, and yet not too difficult to comfortably read. There are no monotonous segments to wade through: just one fascinating sequence after the next. At one incredible point, the cover image becomes fully and astoundingly clear to the reader; at another, the title becomes so. The ending manages to keep things simultaneously fascinating and real—a technically difficult feat that few authors can pull off.
How did she do it? I don’t know; but I’m excited to share this idea with you today: the idea of adding this one to your reading list. To pique your interest, here’s the gist of the opening setup. This passage is from page 3 of the novel:
“He appeared one day, driving up in one of his cars as I was walking along reading Ivanhoe. Often I would walk along reading books. I didn’t see anything wrong with this but it became something else to be added as further proof against me. ‘Reading-while-walking’ was definitely on the list.”
The novel is propelled ever forward from this seemingly innocuous scene. She is reading-while-walking. What could come of that? He is appearing, driving up in one of his cars. What could come of that?
Both nothing and everything.
In my careless youth, I regularly read while walking, but I do not anymore . . . largely because of what could come of it.
Did you read while walking when you were younger? Do you read while walking nowadays? Why or why not?