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Man Booker goes to Anna Burns' 'Milkman,' an innovative novel set during Ireland's 'troubles'

Man Booker goes to Anna Burns' 'Milkman,' an innovative novel set during Ireland's 'troubles'
Anna Burns with her Man Booker-winning novel, 'Milkman' (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP/Getty Images)

Anna Burns won the Man Booker Prize for her novel "Milkman" on Tuesday, becoming the first author from Northern Ireland to win the award, one of the world’s most prestigious prizes for fiction. She is the first author from the United Kingdom to win the prize since 2012.

"Milkman," Burns' fourth novel, follows a young woman in an unnamed town during Ireland’s Troubles who is rumored to be having an affair with a local paramilitary figure.

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The novel has been published in England but was not slated to appear in the U.S. until next fall; on Tuesday, American publisher Graywolf announced that the book would be available to readers this year, on Dec. 11.

Burns was announced as the winner at a ceremony in London that was broadcast live on BBC News. She was visibly shocked as she took the stage and gave a brief acceptance speech, thanking her co-finalists and her publisher and agent.

"Oh, my goodness, I think I'd better stop," she ended her speech, overcome with emotion and holding back tears.

The Man Booker is awarded annually to the author of an English-language novel and comes with a $66,000 cash prize.

Before 2014, only authors from the U.K.’s Commonwealth of Nations, plus Ireland, South Africa and Zimbabwe were eligible for the prize; but the rules were changed to allow judges to consider authors from anywhere in the world, as long as their novels were written in English and the books published in England.

Burns is the first writer from the United Kingdom to win the Man Booker since Hilary Mantel took home the prize for "Bring Up the Bodies" in 2012. Since then, the award has gone to authors from Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Burns' victory might soothe the worries of British cultural observers who opposed opening up the prize to American authors. The last two winners of the Man Booker Prize were Americans Paul Beatty ("The Sellout") and George Saunders ("Lincoln in the Bardo").

The oddsmakers at Ladbrokes, the British sports bettor that takes wagers on a handful of literary contests, didn't see Burns' win coming. They had picked Daisy Johnson ("Everything Under") and Richard Powers ("The Overstory") as the two favorites to take home the award, with Burns a decided underdog at 6-1 odds.

"Milkman" was the second-bestselling finalist on the shortlist, after "Everything Under." Winners of the Man Booker regularly see a dramatic sales spike worldwide after their novels are crowned.

The other books on the shortlist were Esi Edugyan's "Washington Black," Rachel Kushner's "The Mars Room" and Robin Robertson's "The Long Take."

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