Euphoria by Lily King was the subject of one of the best book group meetings we've had in a very long time. This is a classic example of a book I never would have picked up on my own and am so grateful to have been assigned. I normally read the Sunday NYT Book Review cover to cover, but somehow I missed the review of this book—or, more likely, skimmed it and decided it wasn't for me. Was I ever wrong. (The Times went on to put it on their list of the 10 Best Books of 2014, and it won lots of other honors, too. I was oblivious.)
The book takes place in 1933 and is a fictionalized account of a brief period in the life of Margaret Mead, one involving great breakthroughs in the nascent field of anthropology, as well as a love triangle. In this case, our three anthropologists are the intrepid American Nell Stone, who has recently published a book to great acclaim; her handsome but piggish Aussie husband, Fen; and Andrew Bankson, a Brit whom they meet by chance. Nell is all about work-work-work, studying and taking notes and trying to make sense of the various tribes they encounter along the Sepik River in New Guinea. Fen, Nell thinks, would rather just live with the tribes and not have to bother studying them. At the same time, he is fiercely jealous of his wife's success. Bankson has been working alone for years and is so lonely and depressed and full of self-loathing that when we meet him, he is just about to do himself in.
There is so much to love about this book. For one thing, the writing is terrific—some of King's descriptions really made me stop in my tracks. She does equally well with the scenes of great intellectual excitement and discovery as she does with the quiet buildup to the steamier scenes, and her depictions of the three personalities in this triangle felt exactly right. But I also just plain loved the story. It was fascinating, and you don't need to know (or care) even a little about Margaret Mead or anthropology at all in order to enjoy it.
As I mentioned, we had a very spirited discussion. All of us loved the book, but that doesn't always guarantee a good meeting. In this case, we had so many questions and opinions and connections that we probably could have gone on for another hour if it hadn't gotten late. It was a great pleasure to talk about this book with others—if I'd read it on my own, I think I would have felt disappointed that I had no one to discuss it with.
In case you couldn't guess, I enthusiastically recommend this book! We haven't picked our next book—any suggestions?