The Booker Prize, one of the biggest literary events in English-language fiction, yesterday announced the 13 finalists for its 2019 awards (July 24). The long list has some notable nominees, including The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which is expected to be released on Sept. 10, and Quichotte, Salman Rushdie’s forthcoming Don Quixote-inspired novel, set in America.
But perhaps most notable is the only book on the list by a US-born author, Lucy Ellmann. Ducks, Newburyport is the Edinburgh-based writer’s eighth novel and consists of a single sentence that runs over 1,000 pages.
The latest installment from Atwood is, of course, highly anticipated (its plot is so secret that Booker Prize judges said they had to sign “a ferocious non-disclosure agreement” after reading it) but Ellmann’s unconventional book seems to be standing out with judges and critics.
Ducks, Newburyport is, as The Telegraph describes it, “the interior monologue of an Ohio housewife ruminating on everything from dinner party menus to the dark side of Trump’s America.” In total, it’s a 426,100-word sentence—readers get several brief respites from the protagonist’s inner monologue with a parallel story, told from the perspective of a mountain lioness.
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The Guardian writes that the novel pushes “the stream-of-consciousness narrative to its limit.” Joanna MacGregor, one of this year’s Booker Prize judges, advises readers not be daunted by the premise, and to “read as much as you can of it and then put it down and come back to it.” The book is also extremely funny, MacGregor promises.
Ellmann seems to be gleefully aware of the enigma she’s created, and is happy to participate in a bit of self-deprecation: the cover of the book proudly features a line from an Evening Standard review, that “reading Ellmann is like finding bits of broken glass in your lollipop.”
Meanwhile, reviews on Goodreads are largely positive. Many readers note that the book is funny and innovative, some even call it genius. One five-star review reads: “You are on a journey when you read this book. The narrator’s stream of consciousness will suck you in. It will make you laugh, it may well make you cry. It could very possibly make you angry.” Others were more skeptical: “I wondered why this structure had been chosen. It is audacious and ambitious but felt done for the sake of it,” wrote one of the few two-star reviewers.
The only debut novel on the list is by Nigerian-UK writer Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel My Sister, The Serial Killer. The Booker Prize shortlist will be announced on Sept. 3, and the winner on Oct. 14.