Monthly Book Review: Euphoria — Lily King

Have you ever read a book that, once you finish, you want to start it all over again? This is something that happens less than once in a blue moon for me, but when it does happen I feel wonderful. Euphoria is one that type of book.

Euphoria Cover

This novel revolves around three anthropologists working in the Solomon Islands during the 1930s. Euphoria is narrated by Andrew Bankson, but the narration focuses on Nell Stone and her husband, Schuyler Fenwick. The book is describes as a “passionate love triangle,” but I’m not entirely sure that is a correct description. Of course, there is a bit of a love triangle, but it certainly doesn’t drive the novel. I feel that the novel was really driven by the passion and frustration that each character had for anthropology.

“You don’t realize how language actually interferes with communication until you don’t have it, how it gets in the way like an overdominant sense. You have to pay much more attention to everything else when you can’t understand the words. Once comprehension comes, so much else falls away. You then rely on their words, and words aren’t always the most reliable thing.”       —Euphoria, pg. 79

What made me want to read Euphoria was a mention in a magazine stating how the novel was inspired by the life of Margaret Mead, an anthropologist who studied attitudes towards sex in the South Pacific. You can clearly see in the book how Mead’s works and early life influenced King’s characterization of Nell Stone. Anthropology is a topic that really interests me, so I felt I had to pick this book up.

Euphoria is beautifully written, and its 257 pages will fly by. King’s writing gives off an anxious feeling – the feeling of something terrible happening. For me it also gave me a strong sense of the passion that these characters have for their work, which is something that I can very much relate to.

“‘It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion — you’ve only been there eight weeks — and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at this moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.'” — Euphoria, pg. 50

Another thing that King did well in Euphoria was keeping information away from the reader so that they could speculate on the pasts of each character. At times this frustrated me, but in the end I thought that I enjoyed the book better because of the withheld information.

If you have an interest in history or anthropology or just want to read a really compelling novel, I would very much suggest you pick up Euphoria. If you’ve read Euphoria, what did you think?

For my September book review, I will be reading Czeslaw Milosz’s The Collected Poems, 1931-1987.

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