Ducks, Newburyport: One extraordinary sentence 1,000 pages long

Book review: Lucy Ellmann has produced one of the outstanding books of the century so far

Lucy Ellmann: ‘This isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.’

Lucy Ellmann: ‘This isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.’

Mathias Enard’s novel Zone consists of a single sentence lasting 512 pages, ending with a full stop. Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones has a single sentence lasting for 216 pages and ends unpunctuated, floating away on the Mayo breeze.

Now, in Ducks, Newburyport, Lucy Ellmann has written a continuous sentence (punctuated only by commas and ending with a full stop) which lasts for close to 1,000 pages, a total made difficult to calculate due to an auxiliary story which nuzzles into the main text every so often. This is written in a more conventional fashion, unlike every other part of the novel which works as a continuous flow of thoughts and associations; an approach that is not in any way gimmicky.

It is, instead, an extraordinary achievement of wit and imagination detailing the life and inner reasoning of a contemporary and conventional American woman who lives in Ohio with her husband and four children, the oldest of whom is from an earlier, much less successful marriage. Along with the details of her daily life – much of it spent making pies which she sells to local restaurants and cafes – she muses on films, music, animals and, eventually, just about every subject imaginable (there are, for example, several references to Ireland and a couple of mentions of lectures by Declan Kiberd).

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