I switched around my book for today so that I could review a book that is about love rather than about hate (my original selection). I wasn’t thinking about Valentine’s Day coming up tomorrow when I originally selected the review. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Best Book of the Week!
Lily King based many of the events in her novel Euphoria on the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead. The result is a fascinating examination of another culture and Mead’s work methods as well as a love story.
When Nell Stone and her husband Schyler Fenwick (Fen) crawl out of the New Guinea jungle after grueling months spent studying the Mumbanyo, they don’t even know it is Christmas Eve. Nell has found the Mumbanyo people too militant and unsympathetic to work with, so she has insisted they leave against Fen’s wishes. We see almost immediately that Fen is jealous of Nell’s fame from the publication of her book on the Solomon Islands and that he can be brutal. Since the anthropologists consider the territory around the Sepik River to be already claimed by Andrew Bankson, their plan is to study the Aborigines in Australia.
At a Christmas party in their hotel, they meet Bankson. He has been working alone for two years and is dreadfully lonely, has even recently attempted suicide. He also feels stymied in his approach to research, wanting someone to bounce ideas off of. He has been begging for a partner to no avail.
Feeling an instant connection to Nell and Fen, Bankson urges them to pick a tribe to study near him on the river, and he takes them along it to choose. He hopes they choose the people in a village that is close to him, but they choose the Tam, seven hours away.
Here, Nell settles down to work hard, learning about the women and children. She is not allowed in the men’s street, so Fen’s job is to collect information about them. But Fen seems to be more interested in doing things with the men than in actually working on his research.
In the meantime, Bankson has been resisting his terrible loneliness and his attraction to Nell. But finally he comes to visit.
This brief novel is really wonderful in its characterizations, its descriptions of life in a New Guinea village, in its sheer richness. It reminded me a lot of another wonderful book, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.