Euphoria, by Lily King - Book Review

Set in the 1930s in New Guinea off the coast of Australia, King’s novel, Euphoria, follows three anthropologists doing immersive research of small tribal groups living along the region’s waterways. Fen and Nell, tumultuously married Australians, cross paths with Bankson, a lone Brit, at a government post where all three are regrouping.  Fresh off a thwarted suicide attempt, Bankson is enamored with the Aussies and makes it his mission to spend more time with them, particularly the lovely and fragile Nell.

Euphoria revolves around the love triangle that emerges among the three main characters and the differences in their anthropological studies. While seemingly on the same page as the trio feverishly comes up with “the Grid” (a novel breakdown of races by their cultural traits into North, South, East and West), tensions strain as Fen’s increasing self interest and competitive nature butt up against Nell and Bankson’s compassion as well as their burgeoning relationship.

By Lily King

Amid the drama of those three, King provides studied insight into the stark differences between the various tribes that live in the region, sometimes just miles apart. Though set in the 30s, compared to the natives, our trio seems modern and saddled with the same flaws that first world citizens of today face. While struggling with some of the cultural norms of the tribes (for instance, scarification rituals), at times, I felt that their simpler way of life made more sense – a point I think King meant to make.

King chooses her words carefully, often taking a "less is more" approach. Her phrases would linger in my mind. From Bankson, “It was the opposite of wanting to die. But it was scarcely more bearable.”

The story churns to a conclusion that to me was inevitable, but guessing the end had no impact on my desire to finish the book. King’s story telling, obvious research of the region and insight into human behavior present a rich novel that is fulfilling from cover to cover. 

Published: 2014
Publisher: Grove Press

Elizabeth's rating: 4 Stars