Lucy Ellmann wins the 2019 Goldsmiths Prize for Ducks, Newburyport
1,000-page novel written almost entirely in one long sentence wins £10,000 award
Lucy Ellman. Photograph: Colin McPherson/ Corbis via Getty Images
A 1,000-page novel written almost entirely in one long sentence has won the 2019 Goldsmiths Prize.
Lucy Ellmann was announced as the winner of the £10,000 prize rewarding fiction at its most novel at a ceremony at Foyles, London, this evening. Her novel Ducks, Newburyport has been compared to the work of great modernist writers such as James Joyce.
Testing the limits of the stream-of-consciousness narrative, Ducks, Newburyport rejects conventional plot and story structure. Instead it captures the thoughts that pass through the mind of a middle-aged Ohio woman as she bakes pies in her kitchen. What emerges is a linguistically sinuous meditation on life, memory, motherhood and the randomness – and purpose – of everyday experience.
The judging panel was made up of former literary editor of The Times and lecturer in creative writing at Goldsmiths, Erica Wagner; novelist Guy Gunaratne; the New Statesman’s culture editor Anna Leszkiewicz; and Icelandic writer and Academy Award-nominated lyricist Sjón.
Wagner said: “There were six extraordinary novels on the shortlist of the Goldsmiths Prize in 2019; it was a challenge to choose a winner, one which all the judges approached with seriousness and care. But Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport is that rare thing: a book which, not long after its publication, one can unhesitatingly call a masterpiece. In her gripping and hypnotic book, Ellmann remakes the novel and expands the reader’s idea of what is possible with the form. We are lucky to have such a winner this year.”
Sjón said: “Ducks, Newburyport is a massive achievement of a novel, which plays masterfully on every one of the reader’s senses. By running the world, as it is known to her protagonist, through the mind of an Ohio woman, a wife and mother of four, while she is preparing pies in her kitchen, in one 1000-page long sentence, alongside flashes of the events that make up her life, Ellman gives us an inspired demonstration of what it’s like to be the warm vanishing point of a hostile universe. It is as playful and urgent, humanist and unflinching, as the other big novels that precede it in the literary canon. It has Icelandic baby bonnets, lemon drizzle cake and The Nickel Mines Massacre. And then there is the lioness.”
Ellmann was born in Illinois and moved to England as a teenager. Her first novel, Sweet Desserts, won the Guardian Fiction Prize. Her most recent novel, Mimi, was published in 2013. She lives in Edinburgh.
Eimear McBride was the first winner of the £10,000 Goldsmiths Prize for her work A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing, followed by Ali Smith in 2014 for How to Be Both, Kevin Barry in 2015 for Beatlebone, Mike McCormack in 2016 for Solar Bones, Nicola Barker with H(A)PPY in 2017 and Robin Robertson in 2018 for The Long Take.
Eligibility for the Goldsmiths Prize was extended this year to authors of any nationality, provided they have been resident in the UK or Republic of Ireland for a minimum of three years. Previously, the Goldsmiths Prize was only open to those born in the UK or Republic of Ireland.
The Goldsmiths Prize launched in association with the New Statesman in 2013. It is committed to rewarding British and Irish fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form.
This year’s other shortlisted works were:
Slip of a Fish by Amy Arnold (And Other Stories); The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (Chatto & Windus); The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton); Good Day? by Vesna Main (Salt); and We Are Made of Diamond Stuff by Isabel Waidner (Dostoyevsky Wannabe)