My Happy Life


My Happy Life is the tale of a simple, nameless woman with a singular talent for compassion. Abandoned in a locked room in a derelict hospital for the mentally ill, she writes her memories on the walls. After a childhood of cruel treatment at the hands of other children in an orphanage and an adulthood marked by exploitation and the loss of her only child, she remains incapable of bitterness or blame. Generous to a fault, she finds grace in astonishing places.


Praise and Reviews

“The hapless, nameless narrator of My Happy Life, Lydia Millet’s strange, slender and incandescent third novel, has not enjoyed, by any conventional definition, a happy life.”
New York Times Book 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.” (Starred Review)
–Publishers Weekly

“Lydia Millet … strips life down to its simplest components in her strange and lovely new novel, My Happy Life … in Millet’s slim tale, deprivation enables transcendence and reverie.”
–Village Voice

“Strange, lovely and disturbing, Millet’s third novel is also her finest”
–San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

“Millet’s third novel is a nightmare limned in gold.”
–Entertainment Weekly




The door is locked from the outside; they went away and forgot me. It is not difficult: many times I have almost forgotten myself.

Because the world is full. It is teeming with us.

What happened was, the last one who remembered me was gone. It was Jim the night orderly, who faded away. And then the others left too. They closed the hospital and left me in this room, which was locked. And is still.

The swinging ball has not yet come. I think the building is waiting. Sometimes I think that I hear it sigh, like an old dog sleeping.

So now I seem to be alone. That is, if any-one saw me, they would take me for alone.

But I am not alone. I have you.

And aloneness is only a ghost. It likes to seep through cracks, at night or in the winter. But there are no cracks here. Here I feel sewn up, surrounded by substance like a nut in velvet or an eye in a sock. The room is seamless and all over my skin, enclosing. To keep me company, I have both dreams and memories.

Excuse me: if I could open the door I would leave, certainly. Or if the door melted, white steel turning to liquid, and flowed out between its own edges, bending like a spoon and spreading across the floor in a lake of metal, I would also walk out in that case. If the lake never cooled I would still walk, letting the soles of my feet turn into fire. Even if my legs began to melt, I would see just beyond the door before I fell. What lies there is the rest of everything. And the people I never knew and who never knew me.

How I miss them.

[Click here to see the complete excerpt.]