The timing could hardly have been better. In a week when all the talk in the UK is of Northern Ireland and borders and the threat of a revival of sectarian violence, the award of this year’s Man Booker Prize to Milkman seems highly fitting. As a story of the Troubles it evokes, in claustrophobic, unsettling prose, the menace and terror of everyday life in an environment of violence. And combined with the issues of harassment and restrictive control, the result is a toxic mix that seems tailor-made to the age of #MeToo, Brexit and increasing anger and authoritarianism. Anna Burns recognises that her book, her third novel, is now likely to be celebrated as an account of the times. Yet, as she calmly explains the morning after her victory — which surprised many, including, she says, herself — the truth is that Milkman was completed in 2014, ahead of those political and social epoch-defining events. Besides, says Burns, who has had little sleep and is battling a back condition that mean...

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