“Magnificence” by Lydia Millet (2012) – 255 pages
“Magnificence” is an overwrought self-indulgent interior monologue of a novel. Previously I had read Lydia Millet’s last novel “Ghost Lights” and also “Oh Pure and Radiant Heart” and was favorably impressed by those books, Sadly “Magnificence” doesn’t measure up to these.
At the end of “Ghost Lights”, Susan’s husband Hal was murdered in a mugging in Belize City in Central America. “Magnificence” takes up where “Ghost Lights” left off. It is Susan’s story in California after Hal died.
My first problem with “Magnificence” is that the entire narration is filtered through Susan’s mind, and she is just not an interesting person. Most of her thoughts are prosaic and mundane, certainly a waste of my time. To have all the events of the novel interpreted through the mind of someone so boring is a disaster. Susan had cheated on Hal occasionally and that was one of the reasons Hal had left for Central America. Now she tells herself she ‘murdered’ Hal. Somehow she inherits a mansion that is filled with old stuffed animals which are mounted throughout the mansion. She starts an affair with Jim, a dull lawyer. She often sees her daughter Casey who was injured in a car accident earlier and is now confined to a wheel chair. Casey marries Susan’s and Hal’s boss T., and they ask Susan to take care of T.’s dotty old mother Angela, and soon the mansion is filled with old women.
None of the characters in “Magnificence” held my interest, not filtered through Susan’s interior monologue.
So why was the novel ‘Ghost Lights’ a relative success while ‘Magnificence’ is a failure? I have a theory. ‘Ghost Lights’ has a male Hal as the narrator. For a woman writer to create a convincing male narrator requires a lot of discipline and creativity just like it would require the same for a male writer to create a convincing female narrator. So this was a challenge for Millet which she rose to meet. However in “Magnificence” there is a female narrator and that was no challenge for Millet. She could just fall back on her own thought processes. Without the challenge, it was just too easy to fall back into a mundane rut.
The Two Worst Novels I’ve Read in 2012
A few of the novels I read in 2012 had some aspects that I didn’t care for, but there were only two novels during the year that I didn’t like at all.
“The Chemistry of Tears” by Peter Carey – The writing in this novel is as contrived, intricate, and precious as the mechanical clock animal toys of the 19th century which it describes. What is missing is a reason to care about any of the characters either in the alternating 19th century sections or the 20th century sections.
“Magnificence” by Lydia Millet – You guessed it, an overwrought self-indulgent interior monologue and a bunch of less than interesting characters.