WINNER OF THE 2019 GOLDSMITHS PRIZE
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 BOOKER PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2020 ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE IN FICTION
OBSERVER FICTION PICKS 2019 | THE HERALD FICTION PICKS 2019 | THE IRISH TIMES FICTION PICKS 2019 | SCOTTISH REVIEW OF BOOKS FICTION PICKS 2019 | COSMOPOLITAN FICTION PICKS 2019
An Ohio mother bakes pies while the world bombards her with radioactivity and fake facts. She worries about her children, caramelisation, chickens, guns, tardigrades, medical bills, environmental disaster, mystifying confrontations at the supermarket, and the best time to plant nasturtiums.
She regrets most of her past, a million tiny embarrassments, her poverty, the loss of her mother, and the genocide on which the United States was founded.
But in Lucy Ellmann's scorching indictment of American barbarity comes a plea for kindness. Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder, and a revolution in the novel. It is also unforgivably funny.
Lucy Ellmann’s first novel, Sweet Desserts, won the Guardian fiction prize. Her short stories have appeared in magazines, newspapers and anthologies, and she has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Independent, Independent on Sunday, Times Literary Supplement, Telegraph, New Statesman and Society, Spectator, Herald, Scottish Review of Books, Time Out (London), Art Monthly, Thirsty Books, Bookforum, Aeon, Evergreen and Baffler. American by birth, she now lives in Scotland.
‘The unstoppable monologue of an Ohio housewife in Lucy Ellmann’s extraordinary Ducks, Newburyport is like nothing you’ve ever read before. A cacophony of humour, violence and Joycean word play, it engages—furiously—with the detritus of domesticity as well as Trump’s America. This audacious and epic novel is brilliantly conceived, and challenges the reader with its virtuosity and originality.’ 2019 Booker Prize Jury Citation
‘A remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds…Brilliant.’ Publishers Weekly (starred review)
‘A wildly ambitious and righteously angry portrait of contemporary America.’ Observer
‘[Readers] will recognise Ellmann’s dauntless cataloguing of desires, her refusal to be anything but self-directed…It’s a book about a mother’s love, but also about loss and grief, and anxiety dreams about Donald Trump, and despair about mass shootings…It is also a catalogue of life’s many injuries and mishaps…and of the simple joys and consolations of memory and imagination. [A] triumph.’ Guardian
‘Ellmann is an expert juggler with words. Her satire is deft, sophisticated and enchantingly surreal.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Breathlessly brilliant...An extraordinary achievement of wit and imagination...This isn't just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it's one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.’ Irish Times
‘Lunatic and splenetic and distinctive… I begin to suspect [Lucy Ellmann] might be some sort of genius’ Telegraph
‘Reading Ellmann is like finding bits of broken glass in your lollipop.’ Evening Standard
‘Hilarious, eye-wateringly funny…I have found a new hero in Lucy Ellmann.’ Scotsman
‘Ulysses has nothing on this.’ Cosmopolitan
‘Magnificent…Ellman has produced a domestic epic of modern American life in the Trump era.’ Prospect
‘A jaw-dropping miracle.’ Library Journal (starred review)
This shaggy stream-of-consciousness monologue from Ellmann (Sweet Desserts) confronts the currents of contemporary America. On the surface it's a story of domestic life, as the unnamed female narrator puts it: "my life's all shopping, chopping, slicing, splicing, spilling." Her husband, Leo, is a civil engineer; they have "four greedy, grouchy, unmanageable kids"; she bakes and sells pies; and nothing more eventful happens than when she gets a flat tire while making a pie delivery. Yet plot is secondary to this book's true subject: the narrator's consciousness. Written mostly in a single sentence, with clauses each beginning with "the fact that...," readers are privy to intimate facts ("the fact that I don't think I really started to live until Leo loved me"), mundane facts ("the fact that fridge' has a D in it, but refrigerator' doesn't"), facts thought of in the shower ("the fact that every murderer must have a barber"), and flights of associative thinking ("Jake's baby potty, Howard Hughes's milk bottles of pee, opioid crisis, red tide"). Interspersed throughout is the story of a lion mother, separated from her cubs and ceaselessly searching for them. This jumble of cascading thoughts provides a remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society's storm clouds, such as the Flint water crisis, gun violence, and the Trump presidency. The narrator is a fiercely protective mother trying to raise her children the only way she knows how, in a rapidly changing and hostile environment. Ellmann's work is challenging but undoubtedly brilliant. \n
American born (née Donahue) but moved to UK with parents at age 13 and still lives there. Educated mainly at art colleges, but her parents were both writers. Sweet Deserts (1989) was my first experience of the modern autobiographical novel. I was underwhelmed. I liked Varying Degrees of Hopelessness (1998) rather better, but have not dipped into Ms Ellmann’s ouevre since then. She’s been nominated for numerous awards. Ducks won the Goldsmiths Prize and was short listed for the Booker this year. Goldsmiths is a literary award for fiction that "opens up new possibilities for the novel form.” This certainly fits the bill.
Stream of consciousness doorstop (the UK edition is 1022 pages, >420,000 words), most of which is an interior monologue by an Ohio housewife who bakes and sells cherry pies: a helluva lot of them. Her rave ranges from quotidian mundanity to the many things that are wrong with the USA today (the name Trump features prominently), often in the same paragraph. No, wait. There aren’t any paragraphs, or chapters, or full stops for that matter, just thoughts connected by commas and the words “the fact that,” which appear >19300 times. (Someone counted them. That’s 58000 words right there). The book starts with a short piece about a mountain lioness who makes brief, sporadic reappearances, but mostly it’s logorrhoea gal.
There are some clever lines—inevitable among so many words—and lot of repetition, which is intentional I believe, although what would I know.
If you’re into experimental fiction, you might like this. It was too clever for me, but because I had shelled out actual money, I made two attempts to get through it. I made it to 100 pages the first time. Second time out I dipped in and out of it until the end and got though almost 800 pages in total before I ran up the white flag.
Make of this what you will, but other notables from Ms E’s birthplace of Evanston, Illinois include Marlon Brando, Seth Meyers, Seth Gordon (I get those two mixed up), Jerry Springer, Jeremy Piven, Ruby Wax, Grace Slick, Patrick Stump, and Eddie Vedder. You can check out the complete list on Wikipedia. Or not. It’s up to you.