Book Review: Ducks, Newburyport – Lucy Ellmann


Posted 2 weeks ago in Print

Taphouse september 2019

Ducks, Newburyport

Lucy Ellmann

Galley Begar Press

Shortlisted for the Booker prize, Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport is a modernist masterpiece, a single sentence stream of consciousness.

The Narrator is a housewife from Ohio, who bakes and sells pies, who worries about her children, her husband, the death of her mother, her childhood dog, her chickens. And the state of the world.

Her thoughts list, in both senses of the word, triggering the next by rhyme or some unknown connection, and coming back again and again to the difficulty and embarrassment of the 21st century.

How excruciating, the novel exclaims, to be worried about middle class needs like baking and your children’s obsession with facts when Trump is president, when the news is relentless, when global warming is happening! How self-indulgent! And yet, the demands of real life, of suburban America, brands and domesticity intrude. The result is a kaleidoscope of anxieties and acronyms that nevertheless sweeps over a taut plot.

This sentence, which takes up the majority of the novel’s 1,000 pages, is interspersed with a narrative about a lioness and her cubs. The juxtaposition seems jarring at first, and becomes less so. The climax of the two storylines – which come together in much subtler ways than you expect – result in the last 100 pages being not only a pleasure to read, as the entire book is, but a glory. And the last phrase of the book will take your breath away.

Words: Alice Wickenden

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