Sunday, 7 June 2015


Just back from a bright and breezy weekend in Brighton and Hove. One of the pleasures of Brighton is the big Waterstones which has five floors and a nice coffee shop on the top floor where you can glimpse the sea.  I bought Lily King’s Euphoria which has been top of my wishlist for a while. I knew when I read the reviews and blog posts that a 1930's love story set on the Sepik river based on the early life of the anthropologist Margaret Mead would be just the kind of literary novel I enjoy.

Christmas Eve, 1932.  Fen and his wife Nell, anthropologists studying the river tribes of Papua New Guinea, board a boat intending to leave the country. Wearing filthy clothes, suffering from tropical sickness and nursing cuts and bruises they contrast with the other couples on the boat, the ladies in stiff party dresses and men in dinner jackets passing around gin. From a conversation with the women on the boat Nell learns that a book she has published has caused quite a stir in her home country.

At the clubhouse they meet Bankson another renowned anthropologist who has been working with the Sepik river tribes for many years. Lonely and traumatised by the loss of his brothers Bankson is drawn to Nell and tends her wounds and persuades them both to stay on and work with another tribe. Thus begins a bitter love triangle between Nell, her handsome and manipulative husband Fen who ‘smells of Cambridge and youth’ and the kind-hearted and vulnerable Bankson. 
I should say that the character of Nell is only loosely based on  Margaret Mead and she is attractively drawn as a perceptive, methodical and hardworking scientist with an affectionate heart. I loved the description of Nell re-telling the story of Romeo and Juliet to the Tam tribe who find it hysterically funny.   
When a talented writer breaks away from ‘domestic fiction’ there a huge creative possibilities. I’m thinking of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood BibleEuphoria is the best novel I've read this year.  There is an excellent Vogue interview with Lily King here if you can get past all the ads.  Cluttering literary interviews with fashion ads is sooo last year dahling! 


Nadia A said...

That Waterstones sounds amazing! Five floors - wow! When I lived in Exeter for my graduate studies I loved going to the Waterstones by the Cathedral as it tended to have more literary books. The one right off the High Street was filled with more popular titles - I loved their 3 for 2 tables! I'm glad you posted about Euphoria - its been on my radar, but I've been unsure about it. After reading what you've written I now know that I MUST read it. Thanks for the link on Lily King! I have to admit that Vogue does have some great articles and book recommendations lately, which I love! By the by, I'm in the middle of Toews, All My Puny Sorrows. I finally got around to it and I'm really enjoying it so much. Cheers!

mary ronan drew said...

I really liked this book, and not just because of the cover, though that did a lot to lend grace to the story. Margaret Mead is an interesting character - both in this book and in real life.

Kat said...

I also very much liked this novel! I gave away my hardback and now find that I would like to reread it, so thank goodness it's in paperback.

Rebecca H. said...

This sounds very good! I've had my eye on Euphoria for a while, and I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it.

Sunday Taylor said...

I loved this book! Thanks for your review.

Vintage Reading said...

Nadia, they've stopped doing the 3 for 2 which is such a shame, they now do a buy one, get one half price which I'm not keen on. Love those tables, though. I'm planning to read more Toews this year. I've read The Flying Troutmans, Irma Voth and the memoir of her father's depression Swing Low as well as the brilliant All My Punty Sorrows. Look forward to your Miriam Toews posts.

Kat, I have actually bought back books I donated to Oxfam.

Rebecca, I highly recommend it. Do post if you read it.

Sunday, look forward to future novels from Lily King.

Arti said...

This sounds like a wonderful novel... yes, I'd read Margaret Mead way, way back at university but don't know anything about her personal life. I know this is fiction, but I trust still based on some facts. Lately I finished listening to the audio book of Circling the Sun by Paula McLain about Beryl Markham who lived in Nigeria, about the same era as Mead. Interest time and 'exotic' places.