2012 Novella

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

The Colour of Milk

Five words from the blurb: farm, girl, write, unforgettable, year

The Colour of Milk is short, but it packs an emotional punch. The book is set in 1831 and is narrated by Mary, the illiterate daughter of a farmer, who is given the opportunity to learn to read and write. Through her basic, but engaging writing we learn about one turbulent year in her life. A year in which she leaves her family home for the first time to become a maid for the vicar of a neighbouring village.

There was nothing new about the story, but the execution was perfect. Every character was well drawn and every sentence felt necessary. The plot was quite simple, but Mary’s character was engaging and I loved her honest, direct approach to life. The understated descriptions meant that the reader is made to fill in the blanks themselves and this gave the actions a deeper impact :

i don’t know what he hit me with. i don’t know how many times he hit me. i closed my eyes and let him do what he did.

The lack of punctuation and the unusual sentence structure took a while to get used to, but once I’d adjusted I loved the unique tone:

and there was a shed with pots in and trays of soil. and here was a house made of glass what had things growing in it.
and i sat on the grass. and it was not cold.
and the birds were settling in the trees.
and i was tired for i had not slept the night before when i was at home.

The ending was predictable, but somehow that didn’t matter. The quality of the writing made it shine and gave it an emotional power that I wasn’t expecting. I’m sure that this book will require a lot of readers to get their tissues out!

This is one of those books that feels like a classic from the moment it is published. I’m sure it will stand the test of time and will be loved by generations of readers.

Highly recommended.


20 replies on “The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon”

I really liked this one too, Jackie – an almost faultless short novel that, as you say, packs a punch. There were aspects of the plot that could be seen as predictable, but for me the thing that made the book was the voice of Mary which is just so powerful and convincing and fresh. I also loved the feel Leyshon gives of the changing seasons and of nature.

I read the author’s first novel, ‘Black Dirt’, back in 2004 and remember thinking that very good too, though I can’t remember a thing about it now! I have the suspicion that in another eight years I won’t remember a thing about ‘The Colour of Milk’ either, but some writers’ work is just like that I think (I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by John Burnside for instance, but I find his books slip out of my head very quickly), but of course the good thing about that is being able to revisit them years later and enjoy them as if for the first time.

David, It is great to hear that her first novel is good too – I’ll ensure I read it at some point.

I agree about John Burnside. I have only read one of his books and can remember nothing about it – not even the title! I’m not sure the same is true for this book – I think the emotional impact means I stand a reasonable chance of remembering this one, but we’ll just have to wait a few months and see. Glad you enjoyed it too.

Sandy, I love finding books like this. It is great to be able to read someting in a short period of time that has this much power. I hope you get the chance to read it when it comes out in the US.

Yay to Jackie!

This book is on my wish list as I had heard many good things about it. But now that one of my most trusted sources has rated this 4.5, …will need to go ahead and buy it.

I loved this book, Jackie — I gave it five out of five — but I didn’t think anything about it was predictable. I found the ending incredibly unexpected and shocking — I’m still thinking about it more than 2 months down the line, which is always the sign of a good book!

Kim, There were certain aspects of the ending that I didn’t predict, but I didn’t find them surprising. The main thing I predicted early on because of all the clues about “having little time” etc. It didn’t matter though! I’m glad to hear that you are still thinking about this book after a few months – I hope I do too.

Annabel, Perhaps I was just lucky in guessing the ending – I am normally wrong about these things so it was a surprise to guess correctly from the beginning!

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