At Last

Not that I’ve had a lot of free time during the Covid-19 lockdown, or the peace of mind to read a great deal of literature, but somehow — very slowly — I did manage to re-read Lucy Ellmann’s thousand-page novel Ducks, Newburyport. And I also managed to write about it, albeit a year later than intended:

This review is a year behind schedule. When I first read Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport in June 2019, a few weeks before it was published, I believed I’d find much to say and I fully intended to write about it. Just look at its literary bona fides: it takes the form of an internal monologue that runs over a thousand pages, more or less in a single sentence. If nothing else, I thought, its stylistic audacity and its maximalist scale warranted careful consideration. But then, when I came to the end of the book, I set it aside and said nothing. I couldn’t find my way to a beginning. I don’t mean to say that I found the novel wanting or not worth the trouble, nor that I found it a masterpiece for which I lacked the superlatives. I mean only that I couldn’t see the terms on which best to evaluate it. I found it adventurous and accomplished, and frustrating and tedious, but also something else, something more unusual for a novel: I felt somehow held at arm’s length by it, deliberately so, owing to an inscrutable design that drew me back to it after I’d put it down. So I’ve had it sitting here with me these last twelve months, its pages thumbed through for a few minutes most days, and now, after a year’s reflection, I feel better placed to address it. I still don’t think I can review it, per se, but I’m of a mind to give an account of having dwelt with it all this time. In fact, I think, the reason it has stuck with me so long is precisely that it doesn’t seem to call for anything from its readers. By way of its insistent ongoingness, its relentlessness, and its overwhelmingness, it seems to care not a whit for whatever anyone might say about it.

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