Where's the book?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book #2: Euphoria

I started off the year with a bang (The Paying Guests) and now here's a whimper.

Euphoria, by Lily King, was on a lot of 2014 best-of lists. But I'm not sure why.

Loosely based on the early life of anthropologist Margaret Mead, the book takes place in New Guinea in the 1930s. The woman at the center of the story, Nell, has already made a name for herself in, and outside of, her field. Her husband Fen is jealous and competitive. And Andrew, the fellow anthropologist they meet up with, is so lonely, lost, and depressed that he is, when the story begins, suicidal. He is rejuvenated by his connection with Nell and Fen, and Nell responds to him as he reinforces her passion for her work.

The jungle setting is not one that every interests me. Although there are near constant references to the bugs and heat, King didn't really convey the setting, and although there were certain interesting details, I didn't feel myself there, in the place, with these people. The people themselves were nearly as thinly portrayed. Nell herself, the woman at the center of the story, is not terribly well-drawn, Andrew slightly better, and Fen is little more than a stock character -- the angry, jealous husband. He is so Snidely Whiplash-despicable that it's hard to give Nell the credit she deserves, since she chose this buffoon as her mate.

I appreciated the way King wove the many strands and voices -- Andrew's first-person account, Nell's diary, an omniscient third-person narrator. And the exploration of the science of anthropology itself was interesting -- King makes the case that the work reveals more about the anthropologist than the people studied. But it's hard to recommend a book when the most positive thing you can say about it is that it's relatively short and reads quickly. But there it is -- it's relatively short and goes by in a breeze. Enough?

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