A brilliant, indelible novel of teenage alienation and adult complacency in a world whose climate and culture are unravelling.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet’s sublime new novel—her first since the National Book Award–longlisted Sweet Lamb of Heaven— follows a group of eerily mature children on a forced vacation with their parents at a lakeside mansion. Contemptuous of their elders, who pass their days in a hedonistic stupor, the children are driven out into a chaotic landscape after a great storm descends. The story’s narrator, Eve, devotes herself to the safety of her beloved little brother as events around them begin to mimic scenes from his cherished picture Bible.
Millet, praised as “unnervingly talented” (San Francisco Chronicle), has produced a heartbreaking story of the legacy of climate change denial. Her parable of the coming generational divide offers a lucid vision of what awaits us on the other side of Revelation.
I struggled to decide if The Children’s Bible was actually set in the future or if Millet exaggerated the devastating affects of a hurricane to highlight our lacklustre attitude toward climate change and more importantly the way in which we interact as humans in the present day.
Our narrator was Evie, one of a mixed age group of children holidaying in a mansion house with their respective parents., and this is where it got extremely interesting. The children were a disparate bunch, from the highly sexualised, deaf, disinterested in those around them, to Jack, Evie’s younger brother, both sensitive, quiet and thoughtful. They somehow got along, united in there disregard for their parents who thy vocally and physically disowned, reluctant to even name who their parents were.
The parents were unbelievably selfish, hedonistic, wrapped up in a world of drink, drugs, sex and each other. What Millet did so cleverly was to reverse the roles, the adults became the children, the children the adults, as Millet showed their disdain for their behaviour, their ability to look after themselves, whilst they assumed control, took decisions and generally got on with surviving.
As you turned the pages, Millet widened the the gulf between them, the pressure built as the storm roared in, as its devastating after effects finally forced them apart and the children escaped with homeless Burl to guide them.
Their arrival at a deserted cottage, the appearance of three strangers, the angels, and Jacks gift of a children’s bible began to make you feel that perhaps you weren’t in the real world. It felt surreal, ethereal, almost apocalyptic, events matched those in Jack’s bible, Millet’s modern interpretation at times shocking, but somehow skilfully used to make statements, to highlight the plight they found themselves in.
You wondered where Millet would take us, the fate of both the adults and the children as violence slowly pervaded the narrative, as she blindsided us with other worldly episodes that didn’t seem out of place, that perfectly suited the tone and complexity of the storyline.
Did I expect the ending? I’m not quite sure, in some ways, yes, in other ways it wasn’t exactly what i imagined but then I don’t think Millet’s aim was to surprise.
To me, her aim was to provoke thought, to look at the state of the world we live in through the eyes of a group of children. She posed questions about this generation of adults, parents. Have they or are they in the process of destroying the social, moral and environmental well being of today’s world? Will our children, the next generation, be the ones that grasp control, take over and pull us back from the brink.
Whatever Millet’s aim, whatever the moral and ethical dilemmas she posed, you had to admire her superb narrative skill, her ability to tell a story that was both chilling, and to me, utterly engrossing. Her characters were real, and fascinating.
The Children’s Bible, was a novel to remember, its author one to admire, to applaud.
I would like to thank WW Norton and Company and Emily Cary-Elwes for a copy Of The Children’s Bible to read and review.
About the author
Lydia Millet has written twelve works of fiction. She has won awards from PEN Center USA and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and her books have been longlisted for the National Book Award, shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and named as New York Times Notable Books. Her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She lives outside Tucson, Arizona.