... an astonishing range of breakdowns ... a more meandering, rollicking novel, full of nutty lines that are, bewilderingly, horrible and hilarious at once ... There’s no predicting where the narrator may veer next, no warning of when Burns might pivot from the consolation of humor to a tender observation on despair ... The genius of Burns’s prose is how boldly it goes for broke, in sync with the breakdowns occurring within the minds of her characters. Her cascading descriptions of internal turmoil spiral the way the mind does, and she often adds some odd shift in pronouns for extra flourish ... Amid all the absurdity and wicked humor of this novel, Burns has created a complex character study in how violence, paranoia and sexual assault can become normalized in a family, and often remain so. It is a rare novelist who can approach the unspeakable with restorative humor, but Burns has a gift for dismantling and reconstructing things on her own quixotic terms, as she suggests with the perfectly chosen title for this book.
Anna Burns is either nuts - or quite something! In Little Constructions, her second novel, she tackles murder, rape, incest, child molestation, Kalashnikovs and something very like the IRA with indefatigable irony. She gets across her disgust for senseless, needless violence of the Bush/Blair/Northern Irish or merely familial kind, while being pretty damn funny about it at the same time ... Burns...dares to say anything. The writing is energetic, convoluted and courageous. It has a gutsy nervousness that matches the subject matter, as if there is no way to write about violence and violation other than with comedy, digression, wordplay and other peculiarities. Her logic, verging on the insane, pinpoints the complexity of being human ... Every word matters and the oddities are a joy.
... an exceptionally bold, violent and blackly comic tale, wilfully designed to raze your preconceptions of a young female novelist to the root ... The plot, for what it’s worth, concerns a Doe woman, armed with a Kalashnikov, taking revenge for the stealing of a lover ... What it’s really about is 1970s Northern Ireland and, if you give yourself up to Burns’s delirious imagination, you’ll find much salient wisdom, as well as dark humour, in her take on the Struggles.
... shorter, darker and every bit as enthralling as [Burns's] breakout success ... Humor and death amble side by side ... This novel’s tone is slightly more high-pitched than the Booker winner, calling to mind a weird mixture of the gothic grotesqueries of Patrick McCabe’s novel The Butcher Boy and the saga of a bloodthirsty Celtic king of yore ... The narrator’s quintessentially Irish deadpan humor elevates the seriousness of Burns’ endeavor, making it more than just another bleak story about The Troubles. It’s a dizzying ride, by turns horrifying and hilarious, but exquisitely managed by Burns’ baroque but precise prose ... a prayer not just for the people of Tiptoe Floorboard, but for towns just like it all over the world, scarred by violence and transformed into a place where the dead walk alongside the living, the living enfold themselves in little constructions, and the currency in which the community traffics is shame that stems from a trauma that refuses to be named.
...this is not just another Troubles novel. Burns warns that 'one man's surrealism is another man's reality here', and readers would do well to remember this when attempting to comprehend the anarchic ways of the fictional town of Tiptoe Floorboard ... A highly detailed and often convoluted family story follows, in which Burns demonstrates her central theme - the dehumanising effects of violence ... Burns delights in the novel's potential for black humour, and sends up Troubles cliches with abandon ... At the heart of the novel lies a belief that the Troubles were little more than criminal activity by atavistic elements ... Whatever the merits of such an assessment, its simplicity is not reflected in the first-person narrative, which all too often is disjointed, tangential, and difficult to comprehend. As a result, a device intended to mirror the anarchy and uncertainty of civil strife has produced a novel that is, sadly, less than the sum of its many parts.
Everyone—truly everyone—in this story is traumatized to a lesser or greater degree through long-term abuse, sudden violence, the chronic threat of violence, or all three. Burns employs her distinctive wit to make it somehow bearable, to make the reader go along for the ride and possibly laugh rather than shrink back, but it’s a tough go. The story is desperately in want of the humane voice that made Milkman such a delight ... The problem at its core is that the author gives readers no one to hold onto; there is almost nobody for us to know. Who is our protagonist? Where do our sympathies lie? Readers are held at arm’s length, left to wander in this den of dysfunction for the longest time with no clear place to hang our heart ... Perhaps chalk this up as the most oblique love story ever, one that takes a pointedly brighter turn in the closing pages. Yet I can’t help but feel the journey would have been more successful, and certainly more satisfying, if Burns had invited us in, drawn us closer, and shown us a little more heart.
There are times when the reader might assume they know where the story is going, but they will almost certainly be wrong. Thanks to its unpredictability and the absurdity of the characters, the story pulls us along. But as all of the violence and general unpleasantness pile up, what makes us stay is the narrator. Somewhat elusive but utterly present, the narrator is savvy to the who, what, and when, and is eager to share. Overtly opinionated, stupidly funny, easily sidetracked and incredibly gossipy, this voice effortlessly carries the novel ... Little Constructions feels incredibly urgent, like a tale told in seemingly one breath. And the distinct style Burns was noted for in Milkman is present in this 2007 novel. She writes prose that adopts the plain and conversational, but can just as easily turn sophisticated and analytical to the point of convolution. There is something painstaking about the details in this novel, and the desperate need to break everything down is palpable ... Unlike her characters, Burns does not shy away from the taboo or the weight of these topics that include murder and sexual assault. She looks at them head on, breaking apart the traumas of this town and examining its vicious cycle of gender violence, abuse, and fear.
...a book that is shorter, darker and every bit as enthralling as [Burn's] breakout success. ... the focus is on the family and how trauma is passed from one generation to the next. And what a wild family it is ...The violence in Little Constructions is normalized to the same degree that gossip is weaponized in Milkman. This novel’s tone is slightly more high-pitched than the Booker winner, calling to mind a weird mixture of the gothic grotesqueries of Patrick McCabe’s novel The Butcher Boy and the saga of a bloodthirsty Celtic king of yore. Little Constructions is a prayer not just for the people of Tiptoe Floorboard, but for towns just like it all over the world, scarred by violence and transformed into a place where the dead walk alongside the living, the living enfold themselves in little constructions, and the currency in which the community traffics is shame that stems from a trauma that refuses to be named.
Burns' second novel, Little Constructions, just published for the first time in the U.S., proves that she's always been that good. It's a bizarre and dark fever dream of a book that asks serious questions (and provides some unsettling answers) about misogyny and violence against women ... The novel follows the aftermath of Jetty's vendetta against John, and the ensuing implosion of the worst family ever. I think it does, anyway. Little Constructions is a page turner, but it's not always easy to follow ... There's also the mysterious narrator, who's forever going off on odd tangents about the family and the town. It seems as if Burns is deliberately throwing the reader off track in an attempt to illustrate the confusion and unreality that are the product of lives spent in the midst of unrelenting violence ... It's a successful technique. The reader, at times, feels dizzy, almost nauseated by the book's freewheeling narrative, and that feeling is intensified when Burns writes about the violence that John and his associates mete out to just about everybody ...Burns is a magical writer, and Little Constructions is a firestorm of a novel, filled with a rage that feels unstoppable. It's also a sharp critique of a culture steeped in guns, violence and hatred of women.
Little Constructions resembles Burns’ award-winner in several ways. It’s about violence and its consequences. It’s told in vibrant, conversational prose. And it’s very funny ... Burns’ verve is evident from the start ... Throughout the novel, Burns uses humor to dissect an insular, callous community ... Happily, there are still publishers who seek out bracing, acerbic books like this one.
This narrator, one of the book’s more delightful peculiarities, is a (mostly) disembodied know-it-all voice that can sound like a mash-up of Beckett, Dr. Seuss and the Kinsey Report. Though claiming a certain aloofness as a 'bystander,' the voice has plenty to say about mental ailments, marital relations, abuse, shock, recovery and the state of things in general ... [It] all sounds so awful, and it is — but in the narrator’s knowing, alternately wry and waggish commentary, there is more than denial, repression and toughing-it-out, though plenty of that, too. There is a glimmer of hope, a suspicion of redemption, and enough playful wit to suggest that what’s building in Little Constructions may well be a comic novel after all.
You could read Little Constructions as mimicking the violence of violence-denial. The lighthearted tone in which its narrator speaks belies the horror of the rape, murder, and incest they are constantly recounting. And the characters’ names, which almost all feature the last name Doe and a first name beginning with J, seem designed to sow confusion about who is doing what to whom. But Burns’s humor does not undercut the seriousness of violence as much as it undercuts the pathetic delusions of those who cannot see their own violence for what it is ... moments of mockery do not deny but lighten the novel’s darkness: if you’re able to understand false rumors and delusions as such, then they can’t be totalizing ... Little Constructions is pointedly absurd, and its disjunctions with the world that its readers occupy are precisely what immerse us in the violent confusion the book describes. Like incomprehensible horror, or overt denials of reality, its comic exaggerations and recourse to the fourth dimension make us ask: How could this be happening? Burns sacrifices recognizable details, in other words, to evoke recognizable moods and atmospheres.
... echoes of James Joyce...within a defiantly female perspective ... It does the novel no justice to describe its convoluted plot since the pleasure of the book and of Burns’ work overall is falling under its weirdly compelling spell. Little Constructions is as dark and wild as Milkman and yet different, singular. Burns may not be for everyone, but those willing to dive in will most likely enjoy the ride.
Burns’ Milkman was the surprise breakout literary novel of 2018 ... its style was challenging and at times maddeningly recursive but also showcased Burns’ knack for black comedy and skill at conjuring an atmosphere of paranoia. In retrospect, this novel reads like a rehearsal for that triumph; it’s a touch clunkier, at times more confusing than beguiling, but speaks to her ability to write about violence in powerful and unconventional ways ... Burns has deep reserves of empathy ... Burns’ style can make for tough sledding, but the intensity of her material justifies the effort.
Belfast native Burns’s raucous, exacting modernist crime novel...skewers men’s incomprehension of women ... While the narrator’s digressive woolgathering will test some readers’ patience, the acerbic gender commentary tightens the slack. Burns’s fans will find much to chew on.