Milkman – Anna Burns – Quotes

There was food and drink. The right butter. The wrong butter. The tea of allegiance. The tea of betrayal.

He’d homed in on that flag issue, the flags-and-emblems issue, instinctive and emotional because flags were invented to be instinctive and emotional – often pathologically, narcissistically emotional – and he meant that flag of the country from ‘over the water’ which was also the same flag of the community from ‘over the road’. It was not a flag greatly welcomed in our community. Not a flag at all welcomed in our community.

Sorry kids. Seeing things in right relation we should never have had children. We’re just off dancing forever. Sorry again – but at least now you’re grown up.’ After this, there was an afterthought: ‘Well, those of you who aren’t grown up can be brought up and finished by those of you who are – and look, please have everything – including the house.’ […] The letter ended, ‘Goodbye eldest sone, goodbye second elder sone, goodbye younger sone, goodbye youngest sone – goodbye all dearr lovelyy sones’ but with no signature of ‘parents’ or ‘your fond but lukewarm mother and father’. Instead they signed it ‘dancers’.

Even then, even though there were more colours than the acceptable three in the sky – blue (the day sky), black (the night sky) and white (clouds) – that evening still I kept my mouth shut. And now the others in this class – all older than me, some as old as thirty – also weren’t admitting it. It was the convention not to admit it, not to accept detail for this type of detail would mean choice and choice would mean responsibility and what if we failed in our responsibility? Failed too, in the interrogation of the consequence of seeing more than we could cope with? Worse, what if it was nice, whatever it was, and we liked it, got used to it, were cheered up by it, came to rely upon it, only for it to go away, or to be wrenched away, never to come back again? Better not to have had it in the first place was the prevailing feeling, and that was why blue was the colour for our sky to be.

Naturally – or maybe not naturally but understandably – it wouldn’t be untoward for the girl or the woman on the receiving end of this language to think, if a renouncer-sniper from some upstairs window takes your head off now with a rifle-shot, soldier, not only would your passing not chargrin me, I think it would be a pleasant, mentally relieving, charming, karmic thing. So this was hatred. It was great hatred, the great Seventies hatred.

And that’s why the dogs were necessary. They were important, a balancing act, an interface, a safety buffer against instant, face-to-face, mortal clashes of loathsome and self-loathsome emotions, the very type that erupts in seconds between individuals, between clans, between nations, between sexes doing irreversible damage all around.

[…] passing that same entry which was now stacked as usual with petrol bombs for the next district riot.

Should he happen to be married, this Man of Men, this Warrior of Warriors, and providing that the wife wasn’t influential – not, for example, some female renouncer prepared to kill any woman moving in on her husband – then that would be all right as well. So the groupies were happy to be the other woman, to be mistress, because that guaranteed status and a wedge of the kudos and the glory.

These latest deaths now took that family almost to the number one spot as the one with the most violent deaths to have occurred in it in our area, except my longest friend from primary school came from a family in which everybody in it was not dead from the problems bar her.

‘You brought it on yourself, longest friend. I informed you and informed you. I mean for the longest time ever since primary school I’ve been warning you to kill out that habit you insist on and that now I suspect you’re addicted to – that reading in public as you’re walking about.’ ‘But-‘ I said. ‘Not natural,’ she said. ‘But-‘ I said, ‘I thought you meant in case of traffic, in case I walked into traffic.’ ‘Not traffic,’ she said. ‘More stigmatic than traffic. But too late. the community has pronounced its diagnosis on you now.’
Nobody, especially a teenager, likes to discover they’ve been earmarked some freak-weirdo person.

 Of course there was the big one, the biggest reason for not marrying the right spouse. If you married that one, the one you loved and desired and who loved and desired you back, with the union proving true and good and replete with the most fulfilling happiness, well what if this wonderful spouse didn’t fall out of love with you, or you with them, and neither of either, got killed in the political problems? All these joyful evers and infinites? Are you sure, really, really sure you could cope with the prospect of that? The community decided that no, it couldn’t. Great and sustained happiness was too much to ask of it. That was why marrying in doubt, marrying in guilt, marrying in regret, in fear, in despair, in blame also in terrible self-sacrifice was pretty much the unspoken matrimonial requisite here. That was why too, I protected myself by not getting married.

My review of Milkman

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

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