Cover image for My happy life : a novel
My happy life : a novel
Millet, Lydia, 1968-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt, 2002.
Physical Description:
150 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Library

On Order



A simple woman looks back on her harsh life with extraordinary insight and unexpected joy

At the opening of My Happy Life , the unnamed narrator of this bittersweet fictional memoir has been abandoned in a locked room of a defunct hospital for the mentally ill. She hasn't seen the nice man who brings her food in days; she's eaten the soap and the toothpaste; she tried to eat the plaster on her walls, a dietary adventure that ended none too well. And yet, curiously, the narrator is happy. Despite a lifetime of neglect, physical abuse, and loss, she's incapable of perceiving slight or injury. She has infinite faith in the goodwill of others, loves even her enemies, and finds grace and communion in places most people wouldn't dare to look. By stepping outside her meager circumstances, she's able to live each moment as though it were her last-with gratitude, longing, and delight.

Readers will be unable to put down Lydia Millet's impressive, original foray into serious literary fiction.

Author Notes

Lydia Millet is the author of Omnivores and George Bush, Dark Prince of Love. She lives in Tucson, Arizona and New York City.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Millet's last novel, George Bush, Dark Prince of Love [BKL Ja 1 & 15 00], is a sharply comic study in delusion, and her newest, a miracle of linguistic compression laced with venomous irony, also depicts a woman who sees things differently. Abandoned in a cardboard box at birth, Millet's narrator grows up in foster homes where she's beaten, starved, and raped. She's happier living in the park, but a wealthy sadist intervenes and makes her his tortured captive. Perpetually underestimated, she is finally incarcerated and then abandoned in a condemned psychiatric hospital. Her trials are extreme, even epic, but at every brutal turn, she tells herself that her tormentors "surely meant no harm." Perhaps abuse and malnutrition render her slow-witted; perhaps she's an idiot savant with a gift for suffering and forgiveness, a martyr to selflessness. Whatever the explanation, she's a mystic who takes profound comfort in her cosmic visions, a living embodiment of the command to turn the other cheek, a sacred being made of love. Millet's shocking yet poetic tale of survival in a cruel world, enlightenment, and transcendence will rock readers to their very core. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Occasionally a book comes along that is truly written (as writers are instructed books should be) as if it were the writer's last: Millet's sad and infinitely touching third novel (after the absurdist George Bush, Dark Prince of Love) is such an extraordinary work. Brief and unsparingly forthright, the story is told from the miraculously cheerful perspective of a battered, neglected, friendless woman who is locked inside a windowless madhouse cell. The institution is apparently scheduled for demolition; the narrator's last caretaker, Jim, has not returned to feed her in some time. All she possesses are a few broken-down items she carries with her everywhere and that tell her "happy life" story: a cardboard box labeled Brown Ladies Narrow 8, in which she was left at a foundling home as an infant; a broken tooth from habitual pummelings she incurred as a "meat sandwich" at the hands of her fellow orphans; a frayed orange towel she used to sleep in, in parks; and, most horribly, a torn corner of one of the bills that were left to her by a rich older man who locked her away, beat her regularly with a "historical instrument" and later stole her baby. Despite the ghastly physical scars the narrator bears from neglect and abuse at others' hands, she remains a na?f at heart, prone to forgive human harshness as people's inability "to know their own strength." Most incredibly, Millet has managed a few light-handed, affecting strokes to give her narrator charm and even humor ("Excuse me," she says when brutally overcome). The details of her fabulous, tortured life are precise and quirky, and she is always allowed to tell her story in her own childlike way to startling ironic effect in a novel that stands as a courageous and memorable achievement. (Jan. 9) Forecast: Millet's satirical voice is distinctive, but her work tends to resist easy classification. This novel represents a definite leap for her, and should raise her profile, though it is probably too grim to appeal to a truly wide audience. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Like Faulkner's Benjy from The Sound and the Fury, Millet's unnamed narrator is sweet, vulnerable, potentially dangerous, desperate for love, and confused about the passage of time ("a year of the world is not the same as a year of the body," she says). Although she has been bounced in and out of the foster care system, sexually abused, beaten, and forced into solitary confinement, the narrator maintains a carefree and grateful attitude toward the world and all who inhabit it. The only person who draws her ire is the mysterious and frightening Mr. D., a man who tortures her for years, impregnates her (to gain an heir to his fortune), then takes her to an unnamed foreign country and abandons her there. It's an improbable subplot, but the narrator's subsequent search for her baby gives energy to an otherwise meandering narrative. Overall, the story is terribly grim, and the narrator's simplistic, childlike wonder offers so little depth that the reader is left wondering whether, in the end, her suffering has had any meaning. An optional purchase. Amy Strong, South Portland, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.