Idra Novey Posts

Idra Novey, “Take What You need”

Idra Novey’s forthcoming novel Take What You Need . It been named as the most anticipated book of 2023 by Oprah Daily, Vulture,, Elle, and Lit Hub. I read an ARC in Nov 2022 when Idra sent across a copy. There is something extremely powerful about the writing. Here is the book blurb. It says much and yet, not much.


Set in the Allegheny Mountains of Appalachia, Take What You Need traces the parallel lives of Jean and her beloved but estranged stepdaughter, Leah, who’s sought a clean break from her rural childhood. In Leah’s urban life with her young family, she’s revealed little about Jean, how much she misses her stepmother’s hard-won insights and joyful lack of inhibition. But with Jean’s death, Leah must return to sort through what’s been left behind.

What Leah discovers is staggering: Jean has filled her ramshackle house with giant sculptures she’s welded from scraps of the area’s industrial history. There’s also a young man now living in the house who played an unknown role in Jean’s last years and in her art.

With great verve and humor, Idra Novey zeros in on the joys and difficulty of family, the ease with which we let distance mute conflict, and the power we can draw from creative pursuits.

Take What You Need explores the continuing mystery of the people we love most with passionate and resonance, this novel illuminating can be built from what others have discarded—art, unexpected friendship, a new contentment of self. This is Idra Novey at her very best.


It has been a few months since I read Take What You Need . Unfortunately, I read a digital copy so I was unable to mark it, dog ear the edition or even scribble in the margins as is my habit while reading. As a result, I cannot write out passages that appealed to me but I do know that it left me with an astonishing feeling of the power that exists deep within ourselves to find hope, to be creative, to find multiple ways of healing. The artist Jane lives alone. She lives in a home that is in an impoverished neighbourhood. Squatters are a common sight. It is a drifting population whose antecdents are unclear and they can be prone to violence as well — survival of the fittest. Yet, Jean with quiet determination, single-mindedly works upon her art. She rummages through scrap heaps for various sizes of metals and welds them in her home to create sculptures. After her death, her massively intricate installations are donated to a museum. It is a complicated procedure that involves removing the roof of her house and using cranes to lift the artwork and place it on a removal truck. Along the way, Jean has befriended Elliott, a neighbour’s son, a young man, a drifter, a loner, a rough-at-the-edges soul, who for some inexplicable reason takes a shine to Jean and assists her.

At one level, Take What You Need is a story about the many lonely individuals, whether in the USA or elsewhere, who come together to create their own social systems. They take what they need from these relationships and move on. It is about the odd couple Jean and Elliott, it is about the xenophobic youngsters gathered like a pack in the jungles, slowly being indoctrinated by the vile rants of politicians, little realising that they are mere pawns in the larger game of politics. The politicians take what they want from these impressionable young men — their votes, their allegiance, leaving them with nothing, no future. Unlike Jean. Who in the face of adversity, mourning the loss of a father who did not allow her to assist him in his car repair work, but slowly learned to take what she needed from her fate — her diginity, valued her time, created something out of nothingness, created a valuable commodity out of scrap that after her lifetime was hailed as a masterpiece. Jean represents the ability of humanity to bounce back against all odds. The individual takes what they need from life. The community takes what they need. Ultimately, it is an expression of one’s free will. It is a choice. And it is precisely these tiny decisions made on a daily basis that have a deeper consequence on the individual’s life.

I read all the time. Some books I remember, some I do not. But months later, the quiet, “simple” writing style of Idra Novey continues to deeply affect me. It empowers the reader to believe in themselves to bring the desired change in their life.

Read Take What You Want and you must take what you want from it too!

10 Feb 2023

“Milkman” by Anna Burns

Man Booker Prize winner 2018 Anna Burn’s novel Milkman is about a nameless eighteen-year-old narrator, most often referred to as the “reading-while-walking” girl who prefers to read nineteenth rather than twentieth century literature because she does not like the twentieth century. Milkman is set in a nameless Irish city —-p robably Belfast just as the era is never confirmed. It is about the city caught in the battles between the IRA, the Renouncers and the British Army possibly during the 1970s judging by the clues peppered throughout the story. It is about the girl observing and commenting upon her neighbourhood. Unfortunately she begins to be stalked by the forty-one-year-old “Milkman” — not the real one. ( The IRA delivered petrol bombs in milk crates. ) Then to her dismay tongues begin to wag and even her mother is not willing to believe her — that there is no truth in the rumours being circulated. Immediately after winning the prize Anna Burns was quoted as saying “Although it is recognisable as this skewed form of Belfast, it’s not really Belfast in the 70s. I would like to think it could be seen as any sort of totalitarian, closed society existing in similarly oppressive conditions … I see it as a fiction about an entire society living under extreme pressure, with longterm violence seen as the norm.”

Milkman was many years in the making and is the stuff literary legends are made of. The fifty-six-year-old Anna Burns acknowledging the fairy tale Booker win said “‘It’s nice to feel I’m solvent. That’s a huge gift’” It is an extraordinary novel for very early on in the story it is as if the reader is an invisible companion to the narrator observing the proceedings with insights into how they think. There are large portions of the narrative that are running text, a single paragraph that runs across pages, which at first may seem daunting to read but is not so. Very often Milkman is being referred to as being Beckettian but Anna Burns clarifies in her interviews that she only read Samuel Beckett once her novel had been written. Whereas in fact it would be worthwhile to notice how the form of her prose, the fluidity of it, the mildly digressing style while observing and reporting incidents dispassionately, and at other times conveying neighbourhood gossip and events as is, in a detached dead pan manner, without any analysis is ultimately a very womanly quality.

Milkman is much like the commentary many women inevitably internalise. The novel merely makes visible that which is mostly kept out of public spaces for women as it would be mostly perceived as idle chatter. It is also remarkable how effectively Anna Burns portrays a reading-while-walking girl who is in all likelihood absorbed in her book but is also able to observe the landscape and people around her as she walks past. There is violence which she acknowledges in many interviews post-Booker win were because of the Ireland she grew up in. There is a particularly horrific and violent scene involving the butchering of dogs and left in a pile. In The New Statesman interview she says:

… I remember seeing that as a child. It was down the bottom of our street. I was seven or eight, so I don’t really know how high the pile was, but it did look like a mound of dead dogs, with their throats cut – I couldn’t see any heads, so I thought all their heads were missing. It was one of those images that stay with you.

The remarkable effect Milkman has upon its readers is for its relevance to the #MeToo movement is purely coincidental as Anna Burns has reiterated this novel was completed in 2014, well before the movement began. At the same its powerful impact is for its visibilisation of the silences most women are trained to inculcate. Most often women across cultures are socially conditioned to keep their opinions to themselves and conform to what is expected of them. Also their word is very likely dismissed especially when it involves as in the case of a creepy, older man, a stalker, who also happens to belong to the IRA. So the young narrator gets pushed more and more into a corner with everyone including her mother disbelieving her about the false rumours being circulated about her and the milkman. Also by resorting to use the interior monologue style of writing for most part of the novel Anna Burns makes the reader privy to the innermost thoughts of the girl thereby stripping away any pretence the narrator may “normally” have adopted in real life.

There are so many portions in the story that will resonate with women readers while being revelatory to male readers. As novelist Idra Novey points out in her Paris Review essay “The Silence of Sexual Assault in Literature” ( 4 Oct 2018) it is the silences that are critical in literature — what is glossed over and that which is hidden from view.

Though the story [Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People”] was published over sixty years ago, the sick abuse of power is disturbingly similar to any number of testimonies that have emerged this past year. O’Connor artfully elides what exactly the Bible salesman does, or doesn’t do, to Hulga in the barn. That elision evokes the roaring silence that she will now endure, returning to this horrifying experience within the solitude of her mind.

It is exactly this silencing of the women that has remained quietly hidden away from the “public” view —- a view that has been mostly defined by patriarchal codes of conduct. Although these sorts of conversations, thoughts and ideas being expressed freely now in literature are and have always been familiar to women.

Milkman is a powerful book that begs to be read widely.

To buy the Milkman on Amazon India: 



26 Oct 2018 


Web Analytics Made Easy -