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Things Are Against Us

There are three forms of strike I’d recommend: a housework strike, a labour strike, and a sex strike. I can’t wait for the first two.

The first collection of essays from Lucy Ellmann, Things Are Against Us is everything you might expect from such a fiery writer—which is to say, entirely unexpected.

Bold, angry, despairing and very, very funny, these essays cover everything from matriarchy to environmental catastrophe to Little House on the Prairie to Agatha Christie. Ellmann calls for a moratorium on air travel, rails against bras, and pleads for sanity in a world that—well, a world that spent four years in the company of Donald Trump, that ‘tremendously sick, terrible, nasty, lowly, truly pathetic, reckless, sad, weak, lazy, incompetent, third-rate, clueless, not smart, dumb as a rock, all talk, wacko, zero-chance lying liar’.

Things Are Against Us is electric. It’s vital. These are essays bursting with energy. Reading them feels like sticking your hand in the mains socket. Lucy Ellmann is the writer we need to guide us through these crazy times.


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Lucy Ellmann
About the Author

Lucy Ellmann’s first novel, Sweet Desserts, won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1988. Her latest, Ducks, Newburyport, was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and the Saltire Prize, and won the 2019 Goldsmiths Prize and the 2020 James Tait Black Prize. She has written for the New York Times, Washington Post...

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2 July 2021
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Praise for Lucy Ellmann
andThings Are Against Us

‘Breathlessly brilliant…An extraordinary achievement of wit and imagination…This isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.’

‘Lunatic and splenetic and distinctive… I begin to suspect [Lucy Ellmann] might be some sort of genius.’

‘Reading Ellmann is like finding bits of broken glass in your lollipop.’

‘Hilarious, eye-wateringly funny…I have found a new hero in Lucy Ellmann.’

‘A wildly ambitious and righteously angry portrait of contemporary America.’

‘[Readers] will recognise Ellmann’s dauntless cataloguing of desires, her refusal to be anything but self-directed…It’s a book about a mother’s love, but also about loss and grief, and anxiety dreams about Donald Trump, and despair about mass shootings…It is also a catalogue of life’s many injuries and mishaps…and of the simple joys and consolations of memory and imagination. [A] triumph.’

‘Ellmann is an expert juggler with words. Her satire is deft, sophisticated and enchantingly surreal.’

Ulysses has nothing on this.’

‘Magnificent…Ellmann has produced a domestic epic of modern American life in the Trump era.’

Ducks, Newburyport is like nothing you’ve ever read before. A cacophony of humour, violence and Joycean word play, it engages—furiously—with the detritus of domesticity as well as Trump’s America. This audacious and epic novel is brilliantly conceived, and challenges the reader with its virtuosity and originality.’

‘A jaw-dropping miracle.’

‘A remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds…Brilliant.’

‘A work resplendent in ambition, humour and humanity…It is a cornucopia of everyday experience, a lifetime of memories hoarded and pored over, like the family heirlooms the narrator and her husband have inherited along with all the joy and desolation contained within them…In Ducks, Newburyport, Ellmann has created a wisecracking, melancholy Mrs Dalloway for the internet age.’

Ducks’ achievement is in making the thoughts of its unnamed narrator feel timely, fresh, and on a pressing narrative trajectory. It manages intimacies between the narrator and reader, between the self and the other, and between literary and actual time…Ducks, Newburyport, as all the best novels do, had reenchanted the world.’

‘Is it any good? Oh my word, yes. Reading it at this point in time feels like an act of human solidarity, a commitment to a world of truth and reason…No other novel published this year is likely to have a stronger claim on the attention of contemporary or future readers.’

‘This book has its face pressed up against the pane of the present; its form mimics the way our minds move now…Let the novel open like an oubliette under your feet. It feels dense at first, a bit like drowning, without a period or paragraph break in sight. But a rhythm asserts itself and a structure, musical and associative….The capaciousness of the book allows Ellmann to stretch and tell the story of one family on a canvas that stretches back to the bloody days of Western expansion, but its real value feels deeper — it demands the very attentiveness, the care, that it enshrines.’

‘Wondrous…A complex book about a complicated time. It reads like an outpour of humanity beckoning to be heard.‘

‘Ellmann captures the pathos of the everyday…The time and care that she lavishes on her narrator seem like their own form of political speculation—that every individual is owed an unending devotion, and that such devotion, applied universally, might change the fate of the world.’

‘Brilliantly ambitious…As accumulative, as pointed, as death-addled, as joyous, as storied, as multitudinous and as large as life.’

‘Effervescent…Ellmann has made a case that a richer, less regimented language leads to a more vibrant and capacious mind, and has thus crafted the entrancing Ducks, Newburyport into a celebration of all that words, and the minds they build, can contain.’

‘Mesmerising, witty, maximalist…A bravura and caring inquiry into Earth’s glory, human creativity and catastrophic recklessness, and the transcendence of love.’

‘A masterpiece like no other.’

‘Astonishing…A Molly Bloom for middle America.’

‘Monumentally original…Brave and funny…Splendidly idiosyncratic, utterly uncompromising…I have never read anything quite like it.’

‘Hilarious, gigantic, jaw-breakingly delicious.’

‘Full of wit and intelligence…One of the most charming and genuinely funny characters I have come across in recent years.’

‘A bravura feat: a stream of consciousness, a transcript of the mind under modern conditions, and (as a consequence of Ellmann’s ferocious and succinct wit) very funny.’

‘Ellmann adeptly riffs on a vertiginous range of subjects, all the while carefully avoiding the didacticism that would warp the novel into a soapbox or a gallows. Her heroine’s anger burns cleanly, refusing the easy conflagration of self-righteousness. The cumulative effect is devastating. This is a powerful and deeply felt indictment of moral failure, a fearful, dazzling bloom of conscience…A grand, mimetic achievement.’

‘Delicious…Brilliant…Mind-blowing…There are novels, and then there are extraordinary novels—truly unique, one-of-a-kind, sui generis—terms that are often used as clichés but I assure you not in Lucy Ellmann’s case.’

‘A wildly ambitious and totally unique masterpiece…[Ducks, Newburyport] stands out in the current literary landscape like an octopus on a sidewalk, a standing challenge to a literary culture that tends to produce quiet novels in the nineteenth-century mold.’

‘A Joycean achievement…A colossal feat…Perhaps the most intensely real depiction of the life of the quotidian mind I’ve ever witnessed.’

‘This amazing sustained narrative…may be the tour de force of our era, indeed “the great American novel” of now, arguably the greatest by a woman ever, or at the very least a masterpiece.’

‘Like other great works of art, I believe when we reflect back on Ducks, Newburyport we will think it strange that the world once existed without it.’

‘I found myself sinking into the narrator’s mind, consumed in such a way that it was as though we were merging…The length of the book works to its advantage. Yes, this is a novel about Trump’s America, but politically it’s about much more than that. The narrator’s mind slides away from the minutiae of her everyday and toward meditations on the violence that is baked into the very structure of the United States and the entire concept of empire itself…Excess—be it an excess of words, the excess of a new nation’s attempts to claim land, the excess of human attempts to cast dominion over nature—is tied, again and again, to destruction.’

‘Ambitious, devastating and hilarious…A comprehensive statement on modern America that’s bound to be a future classic.’

‘If the novel can feel like a colossal hold-all for one clever, thoughtful, fretful, sad, funny editorialising consciousness, what makes it gel is a sense of wounding…Ellmann’s stylistic achievement here is to weave a net of words that honours her narrator’s unique yet universal self.‘

‘A sublime literary enactment of how guilt, grief, rage, regret, compassion and every other emotion swirls and ebbs in unbalanced defiance of rational logic…If art is measured by how skillfully it holds a mirror up to society, then Ellmann has surely written the most important novel of this era.’

‘A feat of literature.’

‘Absolutely compelling…And although it’s a thousand pages, you read it with energy and pace and verve. It’s just a great ride.‘

‘The Goldsmiths Prize rewards work that breaks the mould and opens up new possibilities for the novel: Ducks is the kind of book that feels unmistakably contemporary, but that you can’t quite believe didn’t exist before now…With Ducks, Ellmann reminds us that the very idea of recreating on the page a “fully formed” human being in all their unfathomable depth is absurd – while getting closer to achieving that impossible aim than any writer in recent memory.’

‘This is a book entirely true to its own voice and project; an extraordinary work of art.’

‘It has fundamentally changed my idea about what the novel can do.’

‘Every line has something important, sad, funny and fierce to say about “civilisation” and its discontents as its female narrator gives voice to chaos, and expresses the human sublime.’

‘Ellmann, in this compassionate and moving and funny crumb quilt of a novel, keeps you enchanted till the very last word and full stop.‘

‘Compulsive and completely readable.’

‘Brilliant…Addictive…There have been comparisons to James Joyce’s Ulysses, but Ellmann is in a class by herself.’

‘Its great torrent of associations and its rich humour come closer than anything else to capturing that weird combination of anxiety and inanity that is the hallmark of our troubled times.’

‘Very funny, very readable and one of those novels that expand the possibilities of what a novel can be and do.’

Ducks, Newburyport stretches the imagination and brings to the universe it seeks to recreate such intensity of purpose and flamboyance that one would be hard-pressed to think of any other word other than “original” to describe it.’

‘The most enjoyable unconventional novel I have ever read…I’m in awe of the ambition of this novel, its range, depth and inventiveness.’

‘Dive into this brilliant, funny and poignant Booker Prize finalist written mostly in one long sentence. Adjust your settings and enjoy manifold rewards.’

‘Few books make you work this hard, fewer still pull off such an arresting literary form while capturing the life and mind of an individual.‘

‘A looping, joyously parenthetical excursion through the mind of an American housewife and the anxieties and absurdities of our historical moment.’

‘Far and away the best book I read this year—this century even—is Lucy Ellmann’s funny, frightening and incredibly addictive Ducks, Newburyport…Ellmann encapsulates existence in the twenty-first century, its dimensions and its contours, while offering an intense portrait of motherhood, of mothering and of being mothered.’

‘Relish the wit, intelligence and love that infuse every line. It is a novel of easy virtuosity, written from inside the mind of a suburban everywoman, that will break your heart and reorder your mental hard drive.‘

‘[An] experimental epic that changes the way you think about narrative and the activity of reading.’

‘As full of wit as wisdom…Urgent, angry and often very funny.’

‘[Ellmann’s] ire is matched only by an irrepressible comic impulse…She’s out to foment revolution.’

‘Funny, sarcastic, playful and self-deprecating, but also provocative and fantastically experimental with language and structure. Ellmann is a master of lists, a seemingly prosaic procession of words builds to a rhythm and poetically creates original insight into how humans are ruining the planet and all of humanity.’

‘[A] wickedly funny, rousing, depressing, caps-driven work of linguistic gymnastics hellbent on upbraiding the deleterious forces of the prevailing misogyny.’

‘[Lucy Ellmann’s] blazing diatribes and comedic energy fuel the purposeful lamentation of these hilarious and potent essays.’

‘Fiery, provocative…For all the wit and wordplay, Ellmann has important points to make, not least about the way that our flailing world is upheld.’

‘A series of extremely entertaining rants.’

‘[Ellmann] is just so wise and cynical and angry…she’s not a polite writer; she doesn’t hold back.’

‘Something of a literary agent provocateur, lobbing essays like hand grenades into the public domain, [Lucy Ellmann] covers a wide range of topics in this collection…Whether satiric, wacky, or angry, Booker-shortlisted novelist Ellmann is interesting and fearless.’

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