Lydia Millet’s Sweet Lamb of Heaven confounded me, delightfully so...It is Anna’s voice — cool, intelligent, passionate, contradictory — that makes this novel so affecting. I resisted it initially because I was overwhelmed by my sense of dislocation, my uncertainty about where we were headed. But how I missed it when it was gone, how I yearned for it to speak to me again.
Sweet Lamb of Heaven is, in short, a book that Richard Dawkins would enjoy immensely. Millet deserves to be celebrated for staking out territory in which the novel can ruminate about current scientific developments. But that makes her work sound dry or polemical, which it is decidedly not. It’s exuberant and playful. That Millet can smuggle her original insights into a structure featuring a rollicking kidnapping plot and deliciously well-drawn characters makes her achievement even more remarkable.
Millet is well known for writing idea-rich books, so perhaps it is no surprise that even if Anna isn't a resourceful fugitive, she thinks a lot and interestingly...If Anna were just another middle-class escapee on a spiritual quest, that might come off as handsome but a little hokey. But Anna's lucubrations, offered between games with her daughter and chats with her neighbors, are part of a higher-stakes game being played by Millet, one that will ultimately, unabashedly touch on time, beauty, horror, God, demons and the very nature of being. By novel's end, having gazed all along through the cracking lens of Anna's apparent ordinariness, the stakes have been raised through the roof.
Millet gives us a new paradigm; her adversary isn’t horror’s usual bad guy, an atavistic entity hell-bent on destruction for its own sake, but the modern world’s infatuation with manufactured, convenient sameness. The showdown still comes decked out in all the suspenseful trappings we love best—a plot filled with surveillance and intrigue; a terrifyingly malevolent antagonist; an endangered child; a ragtag crew of brave resistors—but the soul of humanity is only one modest portion of what’s at stake. Her vision of the good is transhuman. In opposition to Ned’s cold, hollow will, Sweet Lamb of Heaven champions the fractal beauty of the chaotic and fecund...What does it take to make these things seem worth fighting for, you can almost hear the novelist ask. Good question.
What initially seems like standard thriller fare—a young mother on the run from her scary husband, daughter in tow—unfolds into a mind-boggling investigation into questions of God and primordial language...Millet’s prose is stunning, but the complex philosophy can get convoluted, and some of the minor characters stay pretty flat. Still, you’ll have a hard time putting this down.
[T]he haunting Sweet Lamb of Heaven is nothing like the marital-discord novels that might arrive bearing somewhat similar descriptions — a twisty thriller such as Gone Girl, say, or a fraught romance by Luanne Rice. It’s nothing like them at all and nothing like most literary novels. It’s a rare thing, a semi-experimental narrative, and, thanks to Millet’s precisely elliptical language, it’s a rare pleasure to read.
Sweet Lamb of Heaven attempts a kind of triangulation between satire and sincerity. Millet plays the sudden arrival of a disembodied voice in her narrator’s mind for laughs, but she clearly also means us to take it seriously as an analogue for the experience of motherhood ... The language of sentience turns out to sound a lot like NPR ... Millet is an orderly writer; the prose’s smooth, unruffled clauses can’t capture the clammy unease of the domestic thriller. There is a flatness to the characters and a slapstick quality to the action, which is punctuated by long passages of needless exposition. The overall tone is that of the mild observational humor of a well-oiled stand-up routine ... Sweet Lamb of Heaven springs from a sense of urgency and despair over the failures of our current political system to confront these threats, but it is less a diagnosis than a symptom of the problem it means to describe.
Lydia Millet's new novel has the bones of a thriller — there's a woman threatened by a stalker ex-husband and a kidnapped child. But 'thriller' implies high action, and Sweet Lamb of Heaven is softer and more emotionally interior. But 'psychological thriller' doesn't work, either: The term leaves little room for the loopy, music-of-the-spheres philosophizing its heroine engages in. We didn't know we needed a metaphysical thriller, but here Millet is with a fine one.
There’s a deep loneliness at the center of Lydia Millet’s tenth novel, Sweet Lamb of Heaven — and not just because its narrator, a mother named Anna, is on the run. No, this is existential, even cosmic loneliness...In Sweet Lamb of Heaven — as in the stunning trilogy of novels (How the Dead Dream, Ghost Lights, Magnificence) she published between 2008 and 2012 — her metaphysics are hard-edged, rooted in the physical, the practical: a way to investigate our connections to one another and to the generations that precede us, as well as to the natural world.
Sweet Lamb of Heaven defied my initial expectations. Leaping genres, it morphs from thriller to mystery to science fiction. Tones of the apocalyptic creep throughout the pages, alternating between religious and scientific predictions of end times. For a literary work, it delivers a fulfilling amount of surreal and horrific images, enough to keep even a staunch reader of speculative fiction interested...Where I struggled with this work is the description of Anna, according to the back cover copy, as 'a strong female protagonist.'
In the end, the flatness of the characters isn’t too troubling of a flaw. In fact, it’s pretty typical for novels of ideas. You read Millet for the evocative power of her sentences and the moral force of her thought, not for her Strong Male Antagonists. Millet’s an interesting writer with bold ideas, and her plot only gets more engaging with each page, and these qualities make Sweet Lamb of Heaven a worthy entry in an excellent, rapidly growing body of work, evidence that Millet’s in the midst of a significant creative outburst.