Oh look, a teacup – let’s put a storm in it! A small, contained, but passionate storm blew up this morning (New Zealand time) at a finalists ceremony for the Man Booker at the Southbank Centre in London.
Edinburgh-based novelist Lucy Ellmann, when asked about the length of her book, Ducks, Newburyport, an uninterrupted female monologue lasting 1000 pages, said jokingly or semi-jokingly: “I think it’s time for men to shut up.”
Jokes often illuminate good reason. Is it, in fact, time for men to shut up? A select (ie, random) bunch of New Zealand writers were asked to respond.
Hera Lindsay Bird
Did she [say that]? Ha! Good for her! It’s certainly time for men to stop speaking (and legislating) on women’s behalf – and to shut up long enough to give us equal time, respect and opportunity.
I saw that, and thought what the fuck, get over it. It’s like those Japanese soldiers who didn’t come out of the jungle till 20 years after the war was over. I also think sexism is alive and well – salaries etc – but not in literature.
I can never get men to say enough but yeah probably some should shut their traps.
Colleen Maria Lenihan
As an ancient, white, literary male I have learnt to keep my head down. There is fire from all quarters. One may still scribble however.
I haven’t read Lucy Ellmann’s book but I understand the sentiment because we’re living in the age of Trump who is such a spectacle of sexism, misogyny and male narcissism. The planet is threatened by the aggression and warmongering of “strongman” leaders. Joe Biden won’t get out of the way for Elizabeth Warren even though he’s less intelligent and less articulate.
A lot of men seem to be enraged by Greta Thunberg, presumably because they don’t like being told what to do by a girl. Women are surely less likely to want to hold a military parade, to conduct an arms race, to wreck the joint by starting wars. So yes, shut up or preferably step down – not that that’s likely to happen.
I officially worship Lucy Ellmann for her ability to come up with the best lines on the spot. I loved it when she told people to chill out about the length because “it’s only a novel”. She’s right – what are we afraid of? Wrist ache from holding up a large book? Our to-read pile taking revenge because we’ve neglected it? I’m half-way through Ducks and I love it. It’s funny, smart and moving and absolute heaven for trivia nerds (guilty). It’s a saga rooted in pies, chickens, kids, and the Little House books. It’s more than one woman; her concerns are everyone’s. Don’t fight it, Ducks is bigger than all of us.
When a man publishes a long, complex, discursive work, he’s innovative, ground-breaking (David Foster Wallace, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Laurence Sterne). When a woman does, apparently, she’s over-staying her welcome. Ellmann’s concise response is the perfect pithy comeback to a question she must be sick of answering.
This sounds like something a woman writer would say only after provocation?
I’ve had a look at some reviews and most are positive. The only one I found written by a man complained about the weight of the book.
I haven’t read Ducks, Newburyport and most likely won’t, even though it does sound intriguing from what I’ve seen online. I worry that it’s yet another almost unreadable Booker prize novel.
Rachael King [who was at at the ceremony]
I have to say, Salman Rushdie didn’t look as amused by this comment as the audience.
Dr Jarrod Gilbert
I have decided to shut up.
Oh, I’m happy for men to keep talking. As long as they don’t mind me taking notes.