I picked up Euphoria, by Lily King, for the most superficial of reasons, I really liked the cover. I should know better, for how many books have I loved over the years with the worst covers? However, this time it worked.
Often I read books and feel a great sadness when they end. This can be caused by any number of reasons, but more often than not it will be because the experience of reading that book has ended, the story is finished and the fascination over. For better or worse, the tale is told and I am bereft. Euphoria falls into this category. Not only did I relish the story, but I felt that it was probably about 250 pages too short! It left me wanting.
Anthropology is a relatively young subject and our story is set during its infancy in the 1930’s. Based loosely around the life of American anthropologist Margaret Mead, about whom I knew very little, Euphoria tells the story of three young anthropologists working in New Guinea, each trying to achieve a breakthrough in understanding the tribes of their region.
Euphoria, like the emotion itself, is perpetually on the brink, always waiting for something dangerous to happen. The setting amongst the tribespeople of the Sepik River gives the story an edge from the beginning. Fen and Nell in our very first scene are leaving a tribe that has brought them nothing but misery and are on the cusp of returning to Australia. A chance meeting with Bankson on Christmas Eve results in him guiding them up the river to a new location, having managed to persuade them to stay. This is an uneasy love triangle based on intellectual need and pure attraction. Nell is a character who has lived a life beyond the norm for women of her time. Academically she is the character who has achieved the greatest success, having already published her first book. Married to Fen, we understand that she has dabbled with lesbianism and now finds herself attracted to the charming and clearly troubled Bankson. Her husband seems to lack focus for most of the novel, but in the end provides our crucial turning point as a man profoundly jealous of his wife’s success.
As I write this review, I find that I want to narrate the whole story simply because I found it so gripping. I am forever tied to Bankson and the life that he must have lived. I question why I failed to become an anthropologist, which is clearly the most interesting job in the world and I want to talk about Fen, with all his fatal flaws.
You can see the end of this novel, almost from the very beginning, but when it arrived it was so fantastic that I really didn’t care. A few weeks after I finished the story I lent it to a friend. She loved it for all the reasons I had, as a tale of adventure, passion and female independence, but on top of it, she found it life changing, provoking in her a very strong desire to return to studying, to pursue the PhD she had always dreamed of. In fact, it left us both euphoric but for different reasons. I thank you Lily King, I shall be reading more.