‘Euphoria’ by Lily King – A Love Triangle in the Wilds of New Guinea

‘Euphoria’ by Lily King   (2014) – 257 pages

Euphoria-198x300 (1)

‘Euphoria’ is an exciting mix of the romantic, the erotic and the intellectual, a novel not to be missed.   The novel is inspired by the field work of Margaret Mead on the island of New Guinea in the early 1930s.  It is the fictionalized story of the real-life love triangle between Margaret Mead, her husband Reo Fortune, and fellow anthropologist Gregory Bateson.  It takes place in the remote region along the Sepik River where the tribes had never encountered western civilization before.  The anthropologists are there to study the social, family, and mating habits of the tribal people.

margaret_mead This adventure story just comes alive in Lily King’s hands.  If you have ever wondered what it must have been like for Margaret Mead and her associates to travel to these remote villages and to stay there and become friends and study the people in these tribes, this is the novel for you.

The love triangle starts as these things usually do with the wife Nell (the Margaret Mead stand-in) comparing her husband unfavorably to the other man.  Her husband Fen is highly talented in some areas, but he is just too sure of himself and too impulsive. He blunders into actions which might upset the natives. He also envies his wife’s early success and is abusive, a bully. The other man Bankson is more thoughtful and questions everything he does to make sure he doesn’t unfavorably influence the study of the tribe.  Basically Bankson is more subtle and intelligent, a better anthropologist, than her husband.  Also there is a chemistry between Nell and Bankson.

 “ You know you love someone when you cannot put into words how they make you feel.”  – Margaret Mead

 What makes this type of story so fascinating is that they are there to study tribal behavior, and at the same time their own behavior is just as much a subject of interest.  The sure-handed writing of Lily King makes observing this love triangle just as interesting and exciting as the field work these anthropologists are doing.  She puts us on the scene from the very first page, and we fly through this story without a moment’s hesitation.  This is one of the best novels I’ve read this year.  We feel passionately for the characters’ ideas as well as their personal lives.   It is refreshing to read a novel about characters who are smarter than you are.

Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead

When the three anthropologists invent ‘The Grid’ of various human traits which describe differing societies, we are there.  Lily King  handles both the intellectual story and the emotional story capably.

‘Euphoria’ has been optioned to be made into a movie to be directed by Michael Apted, director of ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, and the TV series ‘Masters of Sex’.


8 responses to this post.

  1. I just reviewed this on my blog too and I definitely agree that it is one of the best books I have read so far this year!


    • Hi Magistra Beck,
      Funny thing, I only read Euphoria because I was waiting for a couple of ‘big’ novels to be released. As it turned out Euphoria was the amazing novel I should have been waiting for all along.


  2. This sounds fascinating. I’ve put it on my wishlist:)


    • Hi Lisa,
      Margaret Mead and her husband were in Australia studying a tribe there before they went to New Guinea. New Guinea is quite close to there.


  3. As a cultural anthropologist who has read almost everything Margaret Mead wrote I’m so keen on reading this. And grateful because I hadn’t heard of it.


    • Hi Caroline,
      If you read Margaret Mead, I can guarantee you will like Euphoria. The novel is starting to get the publicity it deserves, and now they are going to make a movie of it.


  4. Now I definitely want to read this. This is another of the heavily-promoted summer books, but I do like LIly King and the only thing that put me off is that she has sold the movie rights to the book. (Why WOULD that put me off?) Since you like it, I’ll add it to the never-ending list. Margaret Mead is fascnating: we read her in college anthropology. (I wonder if they still do.)


    • Hi Kat,
      I suppose Margaret Mead is not as popular as she once was. The United States people seem to me to be more into vicious and stupid right now rather than concerned and smart.
      I hadn’t read Lily King before and must say I’m impressed with ‘Euphoria’. One book that I’m much looking forward to is from your fellow Iowan, ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson.


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