Wednesday, September 16, 2015

EUPHORIA by Lily King

Fen and Nell are cultural anthropologists in the 1930s, married to one another, searching for a new tribe to study in New Guinea, after fleeing from the terrifying Mumbanyo.  Bankson, an Englishman in a state of personal despair, becomes enraptured by both Fen and Nell, and sees them as his salvation as he delivers them upriver to the Tam village.  Nell has published a very successful book, and Fen, who lacks the discipline to create a work of similar import, becomes increasingly more volatile as his feelings of frustration and jealousy mount.  Both Fen and Nell see Bankson as a mediating influence.  He brings out the best in both of them, and the threesome brainstorm “the Grid,” which is their newfound classification system for various cultures and even individuals.  Nell and Bankson see each other as kindred spirits, but Nell is reluctant to take their relationship any further while she is trying to conceive a child with Fen.  The heart of this book is the fascinating love triangle, but there are several underlying themes, especially with regard to anthropology as a science.  The question of how much the scientists’ presence distorts the culture being studied is a controversy without an easy solution.  This novel also separates cultural anthropologists into those like Fen, who want to become part of the tribe being studied, and those like Nell who can’t wait to tell the world about her theories and findings.  A dark sense of foreboding hangs over most of the novel, so that even as I was flipping pages with relish, I wanted to put on the brakes to avoid slamming into the inevitable conclusion.  The author allows bits and pieces of seemingly unimportant information to trickle into the story and then play a large role in the finale.  If I have a quibble with this book it’s that having Bankson as the first-person narrator takes a little getting used to, given that the author is a woman.  In any case, she has woven an exquisite web of passion with an understated thread of suspense that I found totally enthralling.  Euphoria indeed.

No comments: