This is a month for reading long books. I decided this when I learned January 17 is the bicentenary of Anne Bronte’s birthday. How could I skip that celebration? Naturally, I am rereading Anne. She wrote just two novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, so this is easier than you might think. Somewhere I have a collection of the poems. Too bad there isn’t more.
I am also reading Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, the behemoth of a novel that won the 2019 Goldsmiths Award and was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize and the Saltire Award. The critics were uniformly reverent: “It is experimental! It is the women’s Ulysses! It is one long 1,000-page sentence!”
Somehow it’s not like that. It is quite accessible if you enjoy stream-of consciousness. The narrator is an American housewife, buoyantly musing on Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Long Winter, Doctor Zhivago, Trump, abortion rights, her expensive dough-kneading machine, baking cinnamon rolls and pies, choosing crudités for a cocktail party, her son’s preference for yellow crayons, her daughter’s disapproval of her sweatpants, her inability to get handymen to fix the washer on the faucet, the sad fact that they went broke when she had cancer, and much more. I’m sure she gets less buoyant at some point, but there is plenty of humor.
Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but I am reading Ducks with the same fascination I have for women’s magazines. The housewife’s musings could easily be published in Good Housekeeping, Redbook, McCall’s and Ladies’ Home Journal–if there were periods instead of commas and these magazines all existed!
And when I say that, I mean it as a good thing. I have very much enjoyed what I’ve read so far. I think many other women would like it, too, even if they’re not fans of experimental novels.