SHORT & SWEET REVIEW: EUPHORIA BY LILY KING

Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet). 

Euphoria

Another book with a gorgeous cover. Euphoria has been on my to-review shelf for a while, but a glowing review from a writer I admire, The Incredible Rambling Elimy, made me bump up to the front. I’m so glad I did. The book was brilliant. Here’s the blurb:

English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers’ deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with colleagues, the controversial Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband Fen, pulls him back from the brink. Nell and Fen have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo and, in spite of Nell’s poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe to divert them from leaving Papua New Guinea, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control.

Set between two World Wars and inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is an enthralling story of passion, possession, exploration, and sacrifice.

Euphoria was inspired by the life of world-renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead, who had “an urgent calling, a way to bring new understandings of human behavior to bear on the future”. This urgent calling is mirrored in the character of anthropologist Nell Stone, who, with her husband Fen, is observing human behaviour in New Guinea. Driven, but compassionate and brimming with integrity, Nell inspires a love triangle pushed to extremes by egos and the heated, exotic environment. Nell’s a woman of her time and ahead of her time; she’s a memorable character.

King’s writing style borders on poetic; it’s evocative and clever, stimulating and lush. She draws together the main themes of passion, possession, exploration and sacrifice with a mixture of wit, astute observation and rich imagery, with the tropical landscape adding sensuality and menace by turn. The last few chapters made me catch my breath. Here’s a sample that gives a clue to the heading:

‘It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion – you’ve only been there eight weeks – and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at that moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.’ (p50)

Apart from the beautiful writing, there are some amazing insights into tribal cultures. Fascinating stuff.

Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. My copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.