Summary and book reviews of Magnificence by Lydia Millet

Magnificence

By Lydia Millet

Magnificence
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2012,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2013,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

Lydia Millet is "one of the most acclaimed novelists of her generation" (Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times). This stunning novel introduces Susan Lindley, a woman adrift after her husband's death. Suddenly gifted her great uncle's Pasadena mansion, Susan decides to restore his extensive collection of preserved animals, tending to "the fur and feathers, the beaks, the bones and shimmering tails." Meanwhile, a menagerie of uniquely damaged humans - including a cheating husband and a chorus of eccentric elderly women - joins her in residence.

Millet's "flawlessly beautiful" (Salon) prose creates a setting both humorous and wondrous as Susan defends her inheritance from freeloading relatives and explores the mansion's many mysterious spaces. Funny and heartbreaking, Magnificence is the story of a woman emerging from the sudden dissolution of her family. Millet's trademark themes - evolution and extinction, children and parenthood, loss and wonder - produce a rapturous final act to the critically acclaimed cycle of novels that began with How the Dead Dream.

1

It was a stricken love, but still love. It was the kind of love that gazed up at you from the bare white flood of your headlights—a wide-eyed love with the meekness of grass-eaters. Soft fur, pink tongue, and if you got too close a whiff of mulch on the breath. This was the love she cherished for her husband.

The love had other moments. Of course it did. But its everyday form was vegetarian.

She suspected it was the love of most wives for their husbands, after some time had passed. Not for the newlyweds—that was the nature of the condition—but for the seasoned, the ones who had seniority. When she thought of conjugal love she saw a field of husbands stretched out in front of her—a broad, wide field. Possibly a rice paddy. They were bent over, hoeing. Did you hoe rice? Well, whatever. The way she saw them, the husbands had a Chinese thing going on. They toiled like billions of peasants.

Technically, historically, and at this very moment in most of the...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Magnificence is, like much of her work, aware of the issues close to the author’s heart - environmental degradation, extinction of languages and cultures, the decline of biodiversity - but anyone who’d call it, or any of her novels, “activist” is missing exactly what makes them anathema to that kind of writing: Millet’s fierce loyalty to character. Magnificence is painfully, wincingly, hilariously human.   (Reviewed by Morgan Macgregor).

Full Review Members Only (1070 words).

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A dazzling prose stylist, Millet elevates her story beyond that tired tale of a grieving widow struggling to move on, instead exploring grief and love as though they were animals to be stuffed, burrowing in deep and scooping out the innermost layers.

Booklist

Starred Review. 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.

Library Journal

Starred review. [A] refreshingly buoyant and unsentimental tale… Millet’s spare but powerful prose… calls to mind the work of J.M. Coetzee.

Los Angeles Times

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.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Exquisite and wholly original.

San Francisco Chronicle

[U]unnervingly talented Lydia Millet completes a trilogy... each stands independently; you can read just one of them if you please...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.

The Daily Beast

Millet is simply an incredible writer. Her prose displays the exceedingly rare combination of philosophical introspection with poetic grace and flourish.

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Animals in Contemporary Literary Fiction

Even if the book might not quite be about them, Magnificence, like much of Millet's fiction, features animals prominently. When asked about her use of animals in her novels, Millet said, in an interview with Bookforum:

"We lose the subject of animals when we move out of childhood. In childhood animals are all around us, and then we throw them out. In childhood they're everywhere, the stuff of our stories and our art and our songs, of our clothes and blankets, of toys and games. Then in adulthood they're distant symbols or objects. They're rudely ejected from our domain. They're frivolous or infantile, suddenly. They're what we eat or maybe pets. Sometimes they're what we kill. But this makes no sense. This impoverishes our imaginations. ...

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