‘Ducks, Newburyport’ by Lucy Ellman – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

Latticing one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America.

She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of ‘happy couples’, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ‘n’ beans?

A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder – and a revolution in the novel.

My Review

I’ve spent well over a week reading Ducks Newburyport and yet I still can’t fully decide how I truly feel about it. But perhaps by the end of this review I will have come to a conclusion…

I love the premise of this book. I love that it challenges the idea of how a book should be plotted, how a narrative should evolve…

This book is written largely in one unbroken sentence that spans its 1000 odd pages. This is to give the sense of a stream of consciousness / unbroken inner monologue style to the narrative.

This was a brave undertaking and one I admired…

But I also felt that the repetitive narrative technique of saying “the fact that” to start a new clause in the ongoing sentence this book is written in grew quickly tiresome.

By about 15% (I shifted to an eCopy from physical paperback once I realised my wrists were not up to the task of holding this 1.25kg tome of a book)… But as I was saying by about 15% I was tired of this interpretation of a stream of consciousness/inner monologue. I don’t know about you but my personal inner monologue isn’t conveniently broken up with me thinking to myself the fact that this or the fact that that…

I guess I expected more from this narrative. I wanted it to be more free flowing. But instead here we got almost juvenile word play. Like a six degrees of Kevin Bacon…

E.g. the fact that I wonder if there are male gynaecologists on other planets, but even in an infinite universe that seems unlikely, galaxy, solar system, Milky Way, United Way, United Airlines, 9/11...

While the first few times this is interesting but when thought processes are portrayed in this fashion ad nauseam, ad infinitum, ad mortem… it gets not only tiresome but irksome and the originality of the book loses itself to an almost asinine persistence with this motif.

So to me this book was unnecessarily long. I have no qualms about reading a long book but this did feel like a chore at times.

Personally I loved the beginning of the book the best.

That was when the thoughts of the unidentified narrator were at their messiest, almost incoherent… And I revelled in it.

But then a plot was gradually revealed… And I grew bored! Plots aren’t supposed to be boring?????

For a book about all things woman and motherhood I simply found myself not caring about this woman, her relationship with her deceased mother and her eldest daughter Stacey… To me these were the core relationships of the book along with her relationship with second husband Leo but Leo… I just didn’t get her relationship with Leo. I couldn’t decide if I liked them as a couple or was unsure about her dependence on him…

To me the characters let this down. And that saddens me. I would have preferred less of a focus on the other characters which seems something almost anathema to my repeated statements that I like character studies.

What I did like about this book is that it is unapologetically female in its narrative, that the voice of this narrator is very much that of a modern woman. It’s refreshing (and about freaking time!) that a woman and her thought processes re modern living, motherhood, politics etc are being highlighted and discussed because of this book.

I also loved the interspersion of the story of a female lioness at seemingly random periods throughout the read. It not only provided much needed respite from the tiresome “the fact that”s but also gave this book some much needed allegorical imagery that ultimately tied in quite nicely with the unnamed female narrator’s story.

I think to me this is a three star read. There are a lot of things to admire about the author’s aims with this book but ultimately for me the execution was a little off. But I still am quite happy that I read the book and think that a three star rating is fair.

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19 thoughts on “‘Ducks, Newburyport’ by Lucy Ellman – Book Review

  1. I’m actually quite looking forward to the book. Now that I’ve read your thoughts, I am more than looking forward to the challenge; I do like lengthy books. I think it’ll be easier for me now that I have an iota on what it is generally about. Great review as always. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I think you’ll very much enjoy it because there are wonderful moments of humour mixed with great poignancy. And though I do believe the novel was overplayed lengthwise and also re certain narrative devices, it’s definitely one that I enjoyed and feel richer for the experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I havent ever read any of these stream of consciousness books to be honest!! I am quite sceptical about them? Like..how does the reader make sense of it? Maybe I will know when I read one…you have suggestions other than this one, hon? 😊❤️

    And I am sooo sorry you didnt enjoy it as much, Emer! And I agree, plots are NOT supposed to boring…THATS THE WHOLE FOUNDATION OF THE FUCKING BOOK! If you cant do if right, dont do it at all!!

    STILL, A VERYY THOROUGH REVIEW, as always!! 😍❤️❤️👻💕☔️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OOOH I do indeed have a stream of consciousness rec… How did you know 😏😏😏
      Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.
      It’s a really interesting book written as the consciousness of a recently deceased narrator who doesn’t know they’ve died (it’s the wish of the author that the reader knows of the narrator’s deceased state)

      But to be fair to ducks Newburyport (this book I’ve just read) it was incredibly fascinating so I wasn’t bored per se. I do like reading books that challenge me as a reader in some way and this certainly did that as it forced me to ask questions about what it is I expect from a novel and I very much appreciated how it tried to subvert established frameworks on narrative expectations. :))) <33333

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He doesnt know he’s dead?!? 😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱 WHOAAAA!! Thats…WOW! Sounds like I need to read it right fucking noww!! 😱😱😱

        Ducks Newburyport? A very….uhhhh….interesting title I must say!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. omg you are so patient emer because I would have dnf LOL just like what jen said haha. it does sound like an interesting premise though but if they had shortened it probably would have been a much better read. lovely review my sweet 💜💜🥰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Patient or stubborn…… 🤔🤔🤔😂😂😂
      I do like to read books that subvert expected narrative styles though so how could I resist this one. I appreciated the obstinate nature of the author to stick with her idea even if it did sacrifice a little too much of the pleasure of the reading experience :)))

      Like

  4. Wow this sounds like a tomb. You’d have to be quite committed 😛 It’s probably just a personal preference of mine but I can’t seem to finish books if they drag on too much. I think I’d be willing to read this if it was less than 200 pages haha. Do you think it could have been condensed to come across stronger? As in semi-incoherent thoughts with dashes of brilliance? Jen

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s a hard one to decide! Because on one hand I like the persistence in creating this large book, it’s unapologetic about subverting established narrative techniques… But then to me it did just push itself too far. So perhaps if it had been edited down to around the 700 page mark it still would have had that tome feeling but been slightly more accessible. Either way it was certainly an interesting read and one that I don’t regret reading :)))

      Liked by 1 person

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