Milkman by Anna Burns with Montenidoli Tradizionale
For a long time I thought people (those people who make a habit of having opinions) were comparing works of art — as in this novel — to the Tour de France. As in: the arduous 21-day bike race through France, and occasionally other countries, that only men are able to participate in. I always thought it a weak, and rather reductive, comparison, and I probably would have told you so. But just last week I learned the correct phrase is tour de force! These types of linguistic revelations always delight me. How we can be so sure in our wrongness. But now I can enthusiastically say that the novel Milkman, by Anna Burns, is a tour de force. It’s a novel built on precarious borders — physical and metaphysical — on the topsoils and subsoils of human relationships, and the mental atmosphere of coming of age, and possibly undone, by the “rapid, threatening ripples,” of our own landscapes.
Milkman is concerned with how the environment shapes the human, and how we (as characters) shape our own places. The relationship Burns creates is far from symbiotic — it’s predatory, at times down right parasitic. As if her characters are “dragging themselves over the terrain,” while simultaneously being swept, pulled, and jostled by the landscape itself. To read it is to experience a strong, forceful wind—an impressive horizontal energy that, in the end, leaves us holding to exposed roots: “those folds, those coils, those windings, and volumes, and living, moving layers.” It’s not gentle, not ever, but the upheaval is well worth it for all that it reveals — about where we come from, who we are, and how we heal, if healing is even possible.
There’s nothing ‘maybe’ about this month’s wine. It’s solid; something to hold on to. San Gimignano is a small walled medieval hill town in Tuscany. It’s a historical place, and one I imagine the locals have many “microscopically observed” names for. The Montenidoli winery sits on a patch of hill overlooking the towers of San Gimignano, an environment in and of itself: olive groves, rabbits, the Liguarian sea, woods, and, of course, vineyards. This month’s wine from Montenidoli (Tradizionale) is 100 % Vernaccia macerated on the skins. There’s nothing fancy or twitchy about this wine; it tastes like a product of its place: intensely bright and slightly bitter. Just past not gentle, but stopping before a slap in the face.
Anna Burns is a writer from Northern Ireland. Milkman won the 2018 Man Booker Prize, and she is the first writer from Northern Ireland to win this prestigious prize. At the time of writing Milkman, Burns was experiencing such intense back pain that she nearly didn’t finish. Milkman is her third novel. She is also the author of No Bones, Little Constructions, and the novella Mostly Hero.
Montenidoli is the creation of Elisabetta Fagiuoli who, according to the Montenidoli website, has the “same demeanor as the timeworn towers of San Gimignano across the valley from her property.” When she started farming and making wine on her land in 1965 it was mostly abandoned. She shaped the land into a thriving ecosystem by listening to it, following the rules of nature that are dictated by the weather, the days, the seasons. The Vernaccia is macerated on the skins in glass-lined concrete barrels and aged in the bottle.