That rough beast the Great American Novel has been slouching around since the 19th century in the form of hefty books by male authors, from Melville and Hemingway to Franzen and DeLillo. It’s always been a guy thing and, like many other guy things, has seemingly had its day.
Ducks, Newburyport, the seventh novel by the Anglo-American author Lucy Ellmann, was recently acclaimed by the Irish Times as ‘one of the outstanding books of the century so far’ and I find it hard to disagree. It’s a book that quietly restores our faith in the possibility of literary ‘greatness’ while questioning what forms such ‘greatness’ can or should take. It is certainly, in its humane range and weight, a Great American Novel. Is it any good? Oh my word, yes. Reading it at this point in time seems like an act of human solidarity, a commitment to a world of truth and reason.
Its 1,030 pages consist in the main of a single sentence, conventionally punctuated but without any full stops until the end. This is a liberation rather than a constraint. Ducks, Newburyport is set in 2017 and takes place mostly in the mind of an unnamed middle-aged woman living in