A MAN from the council paid a visit last week. “I don’t watch the news any more,” he said, “it’s too depressing.” I had to agree. Yet yesterday, there was a piece of news so cheering it made me leap up from my desk in joy. No, not the prospect of a General Election or the embalming of Nigel Farage, but the shortlisting of American novelist Lucy Ellmann’s book Ducks, Newburyport, for the Booker Prize.

Why the excitement? Well, where to begin? Ellmann, who lives in Edinburgh with her husband Todd McEwen, also a writer, is one of the most undeservedly under-appreciated novelists of our times. In part, this could be because her fiction is risky, challenging, sometimes riotously funny, but as often sizzling with rage. Her titles include Man or Mango?, Dot in the Universe, and Mimi, savage satires on gender politics which are nevertheless also filled with tenderness and optimism. Her fondness for emphasising words in capital letters or italics has irked some critics, who prefer the page to look ordered and calm. But since when was fiction a form of beta blocker? With Ellmann, you feel you’ve had an injection of adrenaline, quickening your heartbeat and bringing the world alive.

Compared with her other novels, Ducks, Newburyport takes something of a new turn. As always, a woman is at its heart, but in this instance, instead of a slim work, it is big: just shy of 1,000 pages. Told by an Ohio housewife, who bakes her way through the tale, it is a stream-of-consciousness portrait of modern-day America, in all its confusion, consumerism, and cupidity. A lengthy glossary of abbreviations is appended, ranging from 2A (Second Amendment) to ZPG (Zero Population Growth) by way of IHP (International House of Pancakes) and WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction). You get the picture.

The length of the story is ambitious enough, but as if she needed something more to spur her on, Ellmann has written the entire book – barring the opening passage – in a single sentence. Does this sound intimidating? Probably. Or make the book hard to read? Not at all. It is like stumbling on an oasis in a desert, a refreshing, invigorating, restorative immersion in a piece of remarkable, thoughtful and truly innovative fiction. Too many headline-grabbing novels are dull and predictable, enervating rather than enjoyable, derivative when they should be daring. Such tedious stuff makes you forget that the original meaning of the word novel was something different, unique, and new.

Thankfully the Booker panel has recognised a work of exceptional talent. Its presence on the shortlist adds lustre to a prize that has been dogged over the years by accusations of mediocrity and popularism, charges that last year’s winner, Milkman by Anna Burns, helped to refute. Ellmann’s fellow shortlistees are prestigious, including Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, both of whom have won before, along with Elif Shafak, second only to Orhan Pamuk in Turkey for international acclaim, British writer Bernadine Evaristo, and the Nigerian Chigozie Obioma, shortlisted for his second novel, as he was with his first.

The competition is stiff, but already statistics are being trotted out: were it to win, Ducks, Newburyport would be the longest to prevail in the history’s prize, beating even Eleanor Catton’s doorstopper, The Luminaries, by more than 150 pages. Apart from their size, however, these two novels are poles apart. There is nothing conventional about Ducks, Newburyport. Indeed, Ellmann’s literary credentials can be traced back to James Joyce, the exemplar of stream of consciousness, where the reader has to surrender themselves to the flow, trusting the author to keep their head above water until they reach their destination. In the fluidity of Ellmann’s prose there’s an echo of Henry James, with his sharp and self-conscious interrogation of America. There’s a nod to Virginia Woolf too, but Ellmann’s wit and acerbity, her scorching political lens, are all her own.

The direction her style has taken is perhaps no surprise. Ellmann’s late father Richard was a world-renowned expert on Oscar Wilde and Yeats, but above all on James Joyce. His biography of the myopic Dublin genius has never been surpassed, remaining one of the most acclaimed literary biographies of the last century. The linguistic poetry and emotional range of Joyce, who must have been an invisible but constant presence in the Ellmann household, seems to have got under his daughter’s skin at a formative age.

The announcement of the Booker Prize next month, on October 14, will mark 25 years to the day since its only Scottish winner, James Kelman, took the prize in 1994 with How Late It Was, How Late. This was a highly contentious choice, not just because of its interior monologue narration, but also its liberal use of the F-word, which horrified one uptight judge. The controversy it sparked has never been forgotten. These days, though, you can’t help thinking the title sounds like a lament for the lapse of time between Kelman’s success and that of anyone else living north of the Border.

There is no doubting Kelman’s status as one of our finest novelists. Along with Alasdair Gray, he is an obvious contender for a Nobel Prize, though the chances of that idiosyncratic telescope’s lens turning in this direction seem slim. Unlike many others, winning the Booker did not make Kelman rich or famous. It did, however, raise his profile internationally, and set a benchmark for those keen to add something memorable to the literary cairn.

Ducks, Newburyport certainly does that. Other than in their tireless search for a mesmerising and distinctive way of expressing themselves, at first glance there is little obvious common ground between this pair. It is only when you read their books and recognise their seemingly effortless brilliance that you realise how similar, and rare, they are.

In the acknowledgements at the end of Ducks, Newburyport, Ellmann thanks “Edinburgh City Council for my Saltire card, a dandy aid to the impecunious”. It’s a cheerful reminder that unless you’re a bestseller, the literary life is not deluxe. Yet listening to the naturalness of her narrator’s voice, and the stories she tells, makes you grateful that the writer’s feet are firmly on the ground, be it a New Town pavement, No. 23 bus, or mid-west America, where the future is unfolding fast.