November 15, 2019

Pagey mallard: Ducks, Newburyport scoops Goldsmiths Prize


A duck: one of the many, many stars of Ellmann’s prizewinner (Ernst Vikne [CC BY-SA 2.0])

This week saw the announcement of the Goldsmith’s Prize, which was established in 2013 “to celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the College and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form.”

This year’s shortlist foregrounded indie presses, with Salt Publishing, And Other Stories, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, and Galley Beggar Press all making the cut. Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise (Chatto & Windus) and Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything (Hamish Hamilton) completed the shortlist. There could only be one winner, though (remember when prizes used to do that?)—and it was Galley Beggar who triumphed, with Lucy Ellmann’s eighth novel Ducks, Newburyport scooping the big prize.

Much has been made of the size and structure of Ellmann’s book, which stretches one sentence over 1030 pages, and comprises the (mostly) unbroken thoughts of an Ohioan housewife as she bakes in preparation for a dinner party. The book was one of four to miss out on The Booker Prize this year, after a double winner was named.

Speaking as she picked up the Goldsmiths cheque, Ellmann remarked that it was “a lot of money for one sentence.” Chair of Judges, Dr. Erica Wagner, said of the book:

Ducks, Newburyport is that rare thing: a book which, not long after its publication, one can unhesitatingly call a masterpiece. In her gripping and hypnotic book, Ellmann remakes the novel and expands the reader’s idea of what is possible with the form. We are lucky to have such a winner this year.”

1030 pages sounds like a lot, but once you’ve (literally) weighed up the practicalities of carrying it around, Ducks… is completely engrossing: one of the few books that can truly be said to reflect the dissonant, flighty, frequently hilarious, fiercely propulsive human mind.

There certainly won’t be a more ambitious novel released for some time, and Galley Beggar deserve huge kudos for taking a risk on what could easily be have been viewed as an unwieldy prospect.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.