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Magnificence: A Novel Hardcover – November 5, 2012
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*Starred Review* Millet brings her searching, bitterly funny, ecologically attuned trilogy of Los Angeles–based novels (How the Dead Dream, 2008; Ghost Lights, 2011) to a haunting crescendo. This tale of loss and realignment homes in on Susan at the end of a tragic chain of events involving her adult daughter, Casey, ending up in a wheelchair; her boss T.’s disappearance and return; and her husband’s death. Susan struggles with grief and guilt and marvels at the ceaseless, atomic whirl of life and the persistence of the past. She is also astringently hilarious on the subject of men and her life as a secret slut. Millet creates a brilliant deus ex machina when her spiky protagonist unexpectedly inherits a vast mansion in Pasadena that is filled with hundreds of stuffed and mounted animals from all around the world. Susan is transformed by her new life as caretaker for this private natural history museum, this library of the dead, which becomes an unlikely haven for T.’s dementia-afflicted mother and others in need of succor and companionship. Millet is extraordinarily agile and powerful here, moving from light to shadow like a stalking lioness as Susan’s strange stewardship casts light on extinction and preservation, how we care for others and seek or hide truth, and crimes both intimate and planetary. --Donna Seaman
“Lydia Millet's Magnificence is a novel of ideas. I mean that as a high compliment, for the ideas Millet invokes are the only ones that matter: life, death, love, longing, extinction, the ongoing existential quandary of what we are doing here.... [A]n ambitious book, not so much for the sweep of its action, which is essentially domestic, but for its deep and nuanced investigation of inner life....”
- David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“[Magnificence is] elegant, darkly comic…with overtones variously of Muriel Spark, Edward Gorey and J. G. Ballard, full of contemporary wit and devilish fateful turns for her characters, and then also to knit together into a tapestry of vast implication and ethical urgency, something as large as any writer could attempt: a kind of allegorical elegy for life on a dying planet. Ours, that is.”
- Jonathan Lethem, The Guardian
“Millet’s prose, which is both sensitive and strange... creates a thick atmosphere that immediately pulls the reader deep into this saga of love, death, sex, and taxidermy.”
“...[W]arm, moving, funny, earnest, hopeful, honest, and engaged in a way at odds with current literary fashion…Millet’s lush prose has you in her thrall from the start.”
- Jenny Hendrix, Boston Globe
“...[U]unnervingly talented Lydia Millet completes a trilogy... each stands independently; you can read just one of them if you please. But you won't want to, any more than you'd want to leave Chez Panisse after the appetizer.... There is something of Paula Fox in the way Millet provokes deep thinking without being overbearing. But I hate to compare Millet to anyone; she's truly an original.”
- Mary Pols, San Francisco Chronicle
“Millet is simply an incredible writer. Her prose displays the exceedingly rare combination of philosophical introspection with poetic grace and flourish.”
- Nicholas Mancusi, Daily Beast
“[A] novel of ideas or philosophy, disguised as a portrait of one woman’s midlife upheaval.”
- Laura Miller, Salon
“Millet's writing is as lush as the house Susan lives in. There's a marvelous musicality to her prose; she's a writer who tackles human emotions with scientific precision and an artist's voice…. There's a cataloging going on here of the ways that people navigate the world once their world has shifted; Millet does a fine job of breathing life into people who are surrounded by dead things.”
- Michele Filgate, Minnesota Star Tribune
“Starred review. [An] elegant meditation on death and what it means to be alone, even you’re not… A dazzling prose stylist, Millet elevates her story[,] …exploring grief and love as though they were animals to be stuffed, burrowing in deep and scooping out the innermost layers.”
- Publishers Weekly
“Starred review. Millet brings her searching, bitterly funny, ecologically attuned trilogy of Los Angeles–based novels (How the Dead Dream, 2008; Ghost Lights, 2011) to a haunting crescendo. ...Millet is extraordinarily agile and powerful here, moving from light to shadow like a stalking lioness....”
“... draws a detailed map of the healing process of an adulterous wife who suddenly finds herself a widow…. The deeply honest, beautiful meditations on love, grief and guilt give way to a curlicued comic-romantic mystery complete with a secret basement and assorted eccentrics.”
- Kirkus Reviews
“There’s much to explore in Magnificence, which is ambitious, often funny and deliciously provocative. One needn’t have read the entire series to be consumed by its pleasures, but by the time you reach its beautiful end, considerable comfort lies in the existence of two more novels in which to delight in Millet’s writing and imagination.”
- Christine Thomas, Miami Herald
“Starred review. [A] refreshingly buoyant and unsentimental tale…Millet’s spare but powerful prose…calls to mind the work of J. M. Coetzee.”
- Jeff Ayres, Library Journal
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In Magnificence, Susan finds that the precautions she had taken to be past the steep hills of tragedy have evaded her. She had sought refuge in sex with other men, taking for granted the ongoing shelter of her marriage. In the course of the story she inherits a vast estate which contains the products of taxidermy on a multitude of animals. She falls in love again. She takes in a colony of older women piece by piece. She comes to find that the molecules of our lives, both ongoing and past, remain intertwined.
"We are the memory of others, we are the memory of ourselves." Magnificence is the voyage we take through the hazards of the world and of ourselves to come to terms with these memories, and finally to stop fleeing, and take them in.
This book has a bit of a slow start. It is filled with the often witty observations on the male sex with "their repressed rage and Asperger syndrome." Susan gets side tracked on an obsession that she has killed her husband with her discovered infidelity and his subsequent final trip. But soon the strands of thought begin to weave, and this book transcends into a luminous voyage that avoids the heavy hands of too tedious spiritualism. The taxidermy is a winsome risk but in the end weaves into the strand of the story. It is a book worth reading.
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