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