“Ghost Lights” by Lydia Millet, My Newest ‘Go To’ Writer

“Ghost Lights” by Lydia Millet  (2011) – 255 pages

 After reading “Ghost Lights”, I’ve added Lydia Millet to my short list of ‘go to’ writers.

 What is a ‘go to’ writer?  Simply these are the writers I go to when no individual other novel strikes my interest.  My prime example of a ‘go to’ writer is Graham Greene.  Greene’s novels are always reliably well-written, contain stories that are inherently interesting, and are wonderfully good natured.  They are usually a combination of the adventurous and the domestic, the humorous and the dramatic.  All is told in an even-tempered low key manner that rides well for the long run. I must have read about 25 Graham Greene novels by now.  

 Another good example of a ‘go to’ writer for me is Anne Tyler.  I’ve read nearly all her novels over 45 years and am looking forward to her next (“A Beginner’s Goodbye”. which will be published in April). 

 Lydia Millet brings these same ‘go to’ qualities to her new novel “Ghost Lights”.  It starts out as a domestic drama, but soon becomes a dark yet humorous Central American adventure story.  The main character in “Ghost Lights” is a middle-aged husband and father.  To have a main character much different from oneself is all in a day’s work for a ‘go to’ writer. 

 “Who was he? He was a middle-aged IRS employee, a father, a cuckold.  He was an idiot.”  

 Much of the novel takes place in the Central American country of Belize.  While reading the novel I learned a little known fact.  The spoken language of Belize is English. Belize, formerly British Honduras, was a British colony.  While in Belize, our main character meets a German family of tourists which are good for some comic relief.  Another quality of the ‘go to’ writer is that the writer can achieve high drama and low comedy in the same scene in a way that seems almost effortless. 

 A ‘Go to’ writer doesn’t have to go overboard to achieve his or her stories’ effects but is supremely confident, and we readers relax and let the writer’s steady hand at the wheel guide us.  Lydia Millet is comfortable enough in her own talent that she can be absurdist and realistic at the same time. 

“Novels should do anything and everything they can pull off. The pulling off is the hard part, of course, but my feeling is if you don’t walk a line where you’re struggling to make things work, struggling with the ideas and shape and tone, you’re not doing art. Art is the struggle to get beyond yourself. ” 

                  Lydia Millet, in an interview with BOMB Magazine

  I’m adding Lydia Millet to my ‘go to’ writer list on the basis of only one novel.  I could be severely disappointed by the next novel of hers I read, but I somehow don’t think that is going to happen. 

 Do you have some ‘go to’ writers?  Who are they?


4 responses to this post.

  1. My new go-to novelist who happens to fall into the Lydia-Millet you-had-me-at-one-book phenom is P. Harding. I finished tinkers weeks ago. Not only do I think about it all the time, but I just might write a letter to him asking for a personal apology for having published only one novel. K


  2. Hi Kevin
    LOL, Asking for a personal apology for having published only one novel might just be going a tiny bit overboard. For many novelists we just wish they’d stop publishing for a few years. For a ‘go to’ writer, the more the merrier.


  3. Margaret Drabble is my main “go-to” writer. I read her books again and again and again. But I can certainly see Graham Greene as your writer.

    I really like Lydia Millet, and will have to check out Ghost Lights.

    And I didn’t know Anne Tyler had a new book coming out.


    • Hi Frisbee,
      Margaret Drabble is a good choice. I used to read her novels all the time but somehow got out of the habit in recent years.
      Lydia Millet has a quite interesting background. I’ll let you research that yourself.


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