Booker Shortlisted: Ducks, Newburyport – July Book of the Month


“…the fact that Mommy’s illness wrecked my life, the fact that it broke me, the fact that I am broken, heartbroken, heart operation, heart scar, broke…” The fact that Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport is the first of our July Books of the Month.

Ducks, as we have affectionately named it here in the office, is a hefty book. At last tally, it clocked in at – count ‘em – one thousand and twenty actual pages. One thousand and twenty pages, but only one sentence. Ducks, Newburyport is the consciousness stream of an Ohio housewife as she tries to reconcile her immediate surroundings and day to day life with climate breakdown and the torrent of meaningless information that comes from living in the ultra-connected modern world.

Here, Lucy Ellmann breaks the novel. She has been described by turns as “some sort of genius” (by the Telegraph), “an expert juggler with words” (the Sunday Telegraph), “eye-wateringly funny” (the Scotsman) and “like finding bits of broken glass in your lollipop” (by the Evening Standard). That last might not sound like an ideal situation, but it is accurate praise when considering Ellman’s work – bright, sparkling prose, fizzing and sweet but with shards of painful truth buried inside.

Ducks, Newburyport is, quite frankly, nothing less than a gargantuan literary feat. Check out a brief extract below:

… I dreamt last night about somebody complaining that he owned a “lesser Cézanne” while I was tearing heartshaped buttons off a shirt, and something about a ferret, the fact that my dreams have become more practical and less expansive, I think, since we got poorer, the fact that I should be swinging wild but instead my dreams are just about tidying the hen coop or unloading the dishwasher, or losing my address book, or I’m cooking noodles for everybody and Leo has a plane to catch in half an hour and there’s no taxi, or I find myself on a bicycle carrying a huge box, the fact that once I dreamt I ate one tiny piece of ham, and that was it, that was the whole dream, the fact that I dream all the wrong stuff and remember all the wrong stuff, what a goofball, “a genuine idiot,” the fact that why do I remember that Amish wool shop and not my mom, …”

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann is out now from Galley Beggar Press (9781910296967, p/b, £14.99)

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