Euphoria by Lily King
First, I love historical fiction, even ones such as this one that are “filling in the gaps” of real people, real events, and very recent history. Euphoria is based on the story of Margaret Mead, well-known anthropologist, and two lesser well-known men in her life. I really enjoy books where we get to envision the actual conversations, settings, even attire of the people when key events took place, and this one was no different.
Unfortunately, readers will need to go into it with a lot more prior knowledge of Mead’s work and anthropology in general to appreciate the complex, clever story. Much of my later enjoyment of the book came from reading published industry reviews–something I do AFTER reading a book so that I don’t go into it with spoilers or preconceived judgments.
I had three key criticisms, though:
1. As so many works of fiction involving this topic already do, the aboriginal people that Mead/Nell were studying are secondary to the white people, white values, white culture of the main characters. It would have been nice to actually learn more about them instead of seeing them through the lens, so to speak.
2. The writing style was beautiful but chaotic. I would read entire passages, reach a pronoun, and realize the wrong person was speaking (or at least, not the person I’d thought had been speaking). The use of quotation marks wasn’t entirely conventional, but that’s my failing and not the author’s.
3. There was far too much inference/alluding for my tastes. Some readers love it, I do not. I do not like being left in the dark or lured into a scene by not realizing what has or is about to take place. The first time I remember this feeling in this book, for example, was when Nell is narrating the fact that she cannot see well because her husband has broken her glasses. It dimmed my view of him as a character, either intentionally or not.
This book is well-deserving of its advanced praise and accolades, but read it with the understanding that it is by far not a mainstream topic. It’s great to expand your horizons, though, and this book will certainly do that. The writing is superb and beautiful, and the vivid descriptions of the setting are perfect.