Posts Tagged ‘Lily King’

‘Writers and Lovers’ by Lily King – Torn Between Two Lovers


‘Writers and Lovers’ by Lily King  (2020) – 324 pages

I was quite interested in what Lily King would do next after her novel ‘Euphoria’ which was spectacularly well done. Now King’s follow-up novel, ‘Writers and Lovers’, has arrived.

Whereas ‘Euphoria’ takes place in the wilds of the island of New Guinea in the early 1930s, ‘Writers and Lovers’ has a much more conventional setting in Boston in 1997. The two novels are much different from each other, and about the only characteristic that they share is a love triangle.

I almost hesitate to tell you the plot of ‘Writers and Lovers’ for fear of putting you off the book entirely. It is about a young woman in her late twenties who is having difficulty completing her novel which she has been working on for six years. She works in an upscale fashionable restaurant as a waitress and lives in a former potting shed in order to support herself and her writing.

She has just broken up with her last boyfriend.

I’m usually better at protecting myself from this kind of thing.”

From heartbreak?”

Yeah.” My throat is closing. “I can usually get out of the way before it hits me straight on.”

That’s not really heartbreak then, is it?”

Early on, she meets two new men. One is a somewhat famous writer in his forties whose wife has recently died leaving him with two preschool children. The other man is closer in age to her and is also a writer but so far not remotely successful.

As you can see, this novel is all about the struggles and triumphs of characters writing their fiction and poetry, a theme which is usually a death warrant for a novel. Here is yet another novel by a female writer about a female writer and the problems she encounters. We have an author searching for an adequate subject but not finding it so she writes about her former life. Yes, writing fiction is a struggle, but who wants to read about it?

In ‘Writers and Lovers’ favor, it does have the formidable writing talents of Lily King. She captures exactly what it must be like working in a fashionable expensive restaurant, the painstaking efforts to present the exotic menu items to the customers perfectly and the camaraderie of the restaurant workers. In the dating scenes, King captures the small nuances and the intensity or lack of intensity in her feelings about these two men. King is especially adept in relating female desire.

My whole body responds to his hand in mine.”

The desire to press up against him is on a short loop in my head.”

However after the wild and adventurous ‘Euphoria’, ‘Writers and Lovers’ was a bit of a letdown. Like its title, this novel is rather amorphous and prosaic. I did like quite a number of the scenes and attitudes of ‘Writers and Lovers’, but for me it did not quite reach the perfection of ‘Euphoria’.


Grade:    B



‘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’.


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