The Long Dark Teatime of the Novel

The two longest novels (in English) of the last decade were published within nine months of each other, and if there was ever a good time to read them, that time is now. As I try to discern whether there is less traffic outside (I think there is) and relish the absence of planes in the sky (not that they bother us much) my pile of books rises on my bedside table like the Shard with the addition of The Mirror and the Light and Ducks, Newburyport.

I’ll post a fuller review of both at some stage; I’m getting along at a fair lick with the Hilary Mantel but as for the Lucy Ellman, I’m just not sure if it’s totally brilliant or utterly unreadable. Ellman is the daughter of the James Joyce scholar Richard Ellman which surely cannot be coincidence as Ducks, Newburyport is a stream-of-consciousness novel, perhaps a riposte to Anna Livia Plurabelle at the end of Ulysses. I began reading it yesterday and after about ten pages I thought, ‘I wonder how long this sentence is going on for?’ I skipped ahead a little: it was still going on. I skipped ahead a little more – and more – and finally, finally found a full stop. At the end of the novel. On page 998.


To be fair the novel is supposedly eight sentences rather than one, and does intersperse the main character’s stream-of-consciousness with the story of a lioness (don’t ask me why) but the chief question is: is it readable? OH maintains that stream-of-consciousness work is lazy and I can see why, but that’s not the most important point because in the end literature that is not readable defeats itself. You don’t have to communicate with absolutely everyone but if you communicate with practically no-one that is hardly a resounding success. The Guardian review reckons only about 2% of people will ‘get it.’ Are they right? Am I one? We’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime my dears, stay safe, help others if you can but prioritise your own health first. And keep washing those hands…

Kirk out (but mostly in)

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