Ducks, Newburyport: A Challenging, Yet Rewarding Book to Read

Lucy Ellmann’s 2019 Booker-shortlisted novel Ducks, Newburyport reads like Molly Bloom’s soliloquy on steroids. This book is nearly one thousand pages, with more than nine hundred pages as the interior monologue of an unnamed middle-aged Ohio housewife. The interior monologue runs as one sentence.
Despite the daunting challenge of reading the book, I found it to be a literary masterpiece. Jane Austen wrote that that ”memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient—–at others, so bewildered and so weak—–at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control….”All these descriptive adjectives of memory are found in the outpouring of words of this Ohio housewife.
She is obsessed with life in what she perceives as a dystopic America. She is outraged with Trump, America’s history of Native American genocide, slavery and lynching of African Americans, American gun culture and the resultant mass killings. And those are just a few of her peeves.
She is the mother of four children; three from her present husband, whom she loves dearly. She is a competent baker who provides her pies and tarts to the stores in town. On the surface, her life seems normal, yet her thoughts drive her to the brink of terror with fear and anxiety.
Despite its dark side, there is much humor in the novel, especially in the wordplay. The author has an incredible knack of juxtaposing horrific and comedic images that create surreal landscapes throughout the book.
Lucy Ellmann spent much of her youth living in Evanston, where her father Richard Ellmann (the biographer of Joyce, Wilde and Yeats) taught at Northwestern. There are a few references to Evanston and the nearby Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie in the book, which especially piqued my interest since I live in Skokie. The author has been  living the life of an American expatriate in the United Kingdom for nearly forty years. She currently lives in Scotland.
There is a second story in the book, interspersed alongside the interior monologue, told by a third-person narrator. It’s the story of a mountain lioness, who prowls the central Ohio countryside and suburbs searching for her lost cubs. This narration is written in a traditional structure of sentences and paragraphs. It is the protectiveness of these two mothers (human and animal) for their offspring that provides a unifying theme to the novel.
I believe that the adventurous and curious reader should give it a shot and read this most incredible literary achievement.

Reconsider Returning to the Original Man Booker Eligibility Criteria


This coming Tuesday, on July 24, the Man Booker Prize 2018 longlist will be announced in London. It’s a pity that the Prize committee changed its eligibility rules a few years back. I favored the original sui generis eligibility criteria, where only British authors and authors from the former Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe could qualify for the competition.
Now it is open to all authors of books written in English, no matter where they come from, as long as the book they wrote was published in the UK. Distinctiveness of the competition is a thing of the past. As most expected, the American publishing industry with its financial and marketing clout has dominated the submission process. The last two winners have been American.
I think that it is time for the committee to seriously reconsider going back to the original eligibility rules and restore the unique nature of the Man Booker competition. I would like to know whether you agree or disagree with me.

2016 Man Booker Prize Longlist To Be Announced Tomorrow

man booker prize 2015 blurb

It’s that time of year again! The 2016 Man Booker Prize longlist will be announced tomorrow at noon London time. Those of you who have been reading this blog over the last five years know that I post frequently on the competition, including reviews of the selections. Those among you who wager, please take note that I have picked the last two winners, so following my blog might be advantageous to you. I’ll be up tomorrow morning at 6:00 am Chicago time posting the longlist.

Farewell Ms. Lessing

Yesterday, I was greatly saddened learning about the death of author Doris Lessing. Ms. Lessing, along with Iris Murdoch and Nadine Gordimer represented a trio of brilliant British and colonial women authors who were born in the aftermath of the First World War and came into young adulthood at the onset of the Second World War. Now only Ms. Gordimer, the South African, is still with us.

All three of these women were proudly independent in a male-dominated world, and all three became actively engaged in leftist politics, with Lessing and Murdoch actually joining the Communist Party. Lessing and Gordimer won Nobel Prizes in Literature, and Gordimer and Murdoch won Booker Prizes.  If the Booker Prize were around in 1962, I am sure Ms. Lessing would have won it for The Golden Notebook.

Although she was a Londoner for more than sixty years, Doris Lessing never felt completely at home in England. She always claimed that the British never accepted her as one of their own. Her nearly thirty years living in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) shaped her personality and allowed her, like Gordimer, to identify with the Black African majority in her country.

Farewell Ms. Lessing. You were truly one of the great literary grande dames of our times.

Man Booker Prize longlist announced

It certainly is a surprising Man Booker Prize longlist for 2012. Four of the books are debut novels, and only Hilary Mantel is a previous Booker winner. Here is the list:

The Yips — by Nicola Barker

The Teleportation Accident –by Ned Beauman

Philida — by Andre Brink

The Garden of Evening Mists— by Tan Twan Eng

Skios— by Michael Frayn

The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry — by Rachel Joyce

Swimming Home —by Deborah Levy

Bringing up the Bodies — Hilary Mantel

The Lighthouse — by Alison Moore

Umbrella — by Will Self

Narcopolis — by Jeet Thayil

Communion Town — by Sam Thompson

Currently only four of these twelve novels are available in the U.S. As soon as I can obtain copies of these books and read them, I will begin posting my reviews. Stay tuned! Continue reading