Books

Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Grove Press

Euphoria

by Lily King

“A taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace—a love triangle in extremis . . . The steam the book emits is as much intellectual as erotic.” —New York Times Book Review (cover review)

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 288
  • Publication Date April 04, 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2370-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date June 03, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2255-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $25.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date June 03, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9251-6
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

National best-selling and award-winning author Lily King’s new novel is the story of three young, gifted anthropologists in the 1930s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.

English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying a tribe on the Sepik River in the Territory of New Guinea with little success. Increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when he encounters the famous and controversial Nell Stone and her wry, mercurial Australian husband Fen. Bankson is enthralled by the magnetic couple whose eager attentions pull him back from the brink of despair.

Nell and Fen have their own reasons for befriending Bankson. Emotionally and physically raw from studying the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo tribe, the couple is hungry for a new discovery. But when Bankson leads them to the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and emotional firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control. Ultimately, their groundbreaking work will make history, but not without sacrifice.

Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is a captivating story of desire, possession and discovery from one of our finest contemporary novelists.

Praise

Euphoria is a meticulously researched homage to Mead’s restless mind and a considered portrait of Western anthropology in its primitivist heyday. It’s also a taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace—a love triangle in extremis . . . The steam the book emits is as much intellectual as erotic . . . and King’s signal achievement may be to have created satisfying drama out of a quest for interpretive insight . . . King is brilliant on the moral contradictions that propelled anthropological encounters with remote tribes . . . In King’s exquisite book, desire—for knowledge, fame, another person—is only fleetingly rewarded.” —Emily Eakin, New York Times Book Review (cover review)

“Atmospheric and sensual, with startling images throughout, Euphoria is an intellectually stimulating tour de force.” —NPR.com

“It’s refreshing to see the world’s most famous anthropologist brought down to human scale and placed at the center of this svelte new book by Lily King. Euphoria is King’s first work of historical fiction. For this dramatic new venture, she retains all the fine qualities that made her three previous novels insightful and absorbing, but now she’s working on top of a vast body of scholarly work and public knowledge. And yet Euphoria is also clearly the result of ferocious restraint; King has resisted the temptation to lard her book with the fruits of her research. Poetic in its compression and efficiency, Euphoria presumes some familiarity with Mead’s biography for context and background, and yet it also deviates from that history in promiscuous ways . . . King keeps the novel focused tightly on her three scientists, which makes the glimpses we catch of their New Guinea subjects all the more arresting . . . Although King has always written coolly about intense emotions, here she captures the amber of one man’s exquisite longing for a woman who changed the way we look at ourselves.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post

“This novel is as concentrated as orchid food, packing as much narrative power and intellectual energy into its 250 pages as novels triple its size.” —Marion Winik, Newsday

Euphoria is at once romantic, exotic, informative, and entertaining.” —Reader’s Digest (summer reading list)

“It’s smart and steamy and like the best historical fiction, it made me want to read about Mead.” —USA Today‘s Summer’s Hottest Titles

“This year’s winner of Book I Read In One Sitting Because I Happened to Read The First Page . . . a novel of ideas and also a novel of emotions: the titular one but also envy, hubris, despair, and above all desire—how liberating or scandalous it can be, how linked to intellect, how dictatorial.” —Kathryn Schulz, New York, Best Books of the Year

“King reveals a startlingly vulnerable side to Mead, suggesting an elegant parallel between novelist and archeologist: In scrutinizing the lives of others, we discover ourselves.” —Vogue Top 10 Books of 2014

“Enthralling . . . From Conrad to Kingsolver, the misdeeds of Westerners have inspired their own literary subgenre, and in King’s insightful, romantic addition, the work of novelist and anthropologist find resonant parallel: In the beauty and cruelty of others, we discover our own.” —Vogue

“You need know not one thing about 1930s cultural anthropology, or about the late, controversial anthropologists Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson (Mead’s second and third husbands) to delight in King’s novel. Her superb coup is to have imagined a story loosely founded on the intertwined lives of the three that instantly becomes its own, thrilling saga.” —San Francisco Chronicle, Top 10 Books of 2014

“King’s superb coup is to have imagined a story loosely founded on the intertwined lives of the above three that instantly becomes its own, thrilling saga – while provoking a detective’s curiosity about its sources. . . . King builds an intense, seductive, sexual and intellectual tension among the three: This taut, fraught triangulation is the novel’s driving force. There are so many exhilarating elements to savor in Euphoria. It moves fast. It’s grit-in-your-teeth sensuous. The New Guinean bush and its peoples—their concerns, their ordeals—confront us with fierce, tangible exactness, with dignity and wit. So do the vagaries of anthropological theories, rivalries, politics. Observations are unfailingly acute, and the book is packed with them. . . . It’s a brave, glorious set piece. By the end of Euphoria, this reader sighed with wistful satisfaction, wishing the book would go on. Brava to Lily King.” —Joan Frank, San Francisco Chronicle

“It’s the rare novel of ideas that devours its readers’ attention. More often, as with Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries or Gravity’s Rainbow, we work our way through these books carefully and with frequent pauses, rather than gulping them down in long, thirsty drafts. It’s not a literary form known for its great romances, either, although of course love and sex play a role in most fictional characters’ lives. Lily King’s Euphoria, a shortish novel based on a period in the life of pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead, is an exception. At its center is a romantic triangle, and it tells a story that begs to be consumed in one or two luxurious binges . . . King is a sinewy, disciplined writer who wisely avoids the temptation to evoke the overwhelming physicality of the jungle (the heat, the steam, the bugs) by generating correspondingly lush thickets of language. Her story . . . sticks close to the interlocking bonds that give the novel its tensile power.” —Laura Miller, Salon

“Lily King has built her reputation as a gifted novelist steadily over three books. Her fourth, Euphoria—a smart, sexy, concise work inspired by anthropologist Margaret Mead—should solidify the critical approval and bring her a host of new readers.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Among the plethora of mysteries and assorted fiction that flow from Maine, it’s a rare novel that rises to the level of Euphoria . . . a fascinating, multi-layered character study of people under duress. . . . the writing . . . sweeps you away. . . . Put Euphoria in your book bag for those trips to the beach. You’ll be glad you did.” —Portland Herald Press

“Masterful . . . Euphoria begins so deep in the action that the reader is captured on Page 1 . . . a thrilling and beautifully composed novel . . . A great novelist is like an anthropologist, examining what humans do by habit and custom. King excels in creating vignettes from Nell’s fieldwork as well as from the bitter conversation of the three love-torn collaborators, making the familiar strange and the strange acceptable. This is a riveting and provocative novel, absolutely first-rate.” —Seattle Times

“Exciting . . . a wonderfully vivid and perceptive tale . . . King’s prose sparkles . . . The upriver experiences of her characters feel thoroughly authentic—fascinating, uncomfortable, always dangerous, sometimes even euphoric.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Splendid . . . compelling, intelligent . . . filled with searing shocks . . . breaks the heart.” —Tampa Bay Times

“Lily King has taken this high-octane collaboration and turned it into an intellectual romance novel . . . the effect is hallucinatory—this is a trip of a novel . . . Hot stuff. In every way.” —Book Reporter

“A haunting novel of love, ambition, and obsession . . . unforgettable.” —AudioFile

“Inspired by an event in the life of Margaret Mead, this novel tells the story of three young anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea . . . This three-way relationship is complex and involving, but even more fascinating is the depiction of three anthropologists with three entirely diverse ways of studying another culture . . . These differences, along with professional jealousy and sexual tension, propel the story toward its inevitable conclusion . . . Recommended for fans of novels about exploration as myth and about cultural clashes, from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“The love lives and expeditions of controversial anthropologists Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson are fictionalized and richly reimagined in New England Book Award winner King’s (Father of the Rain) meaty and entrancing fourth book . . . King’s immersive prose takes center stage. The fascinating descriptions of tribal customs and rituals, paired with snippets of Nell’s journals—as well as the characters’ insatiable appetites for scientific discovery—all contribute to a thrilling read that, at its end, does indeed feel like ‘the briefest, purest euphoria.’” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Set between the First and Second World Wars, the story is loosely based on events in the life of Margaret Mead. There are fascinating looks into other cultures and how they are studied, and the sacrifices and dangers that go along with it. This is a powerful story, at once gritty, sensuous, and captivating.” —Booklist

“Atmospheric . . . A small gem, disturbing and haunting.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“There are some novels that take you by the hand with their lovely prose alone; there are those that pull you in with sensual renderings of time and place and a compelling story; and there are still others that seduce you solely with their subject matter. But it is a rare novel indeed that does all of the above at once and with complete artistic mastery. Yet this is precisely what Lily King has done in her stunningly passionate and gorgeously written Euphoria. It is simply one of the finest novels I’ve read in years, and it puts Lily King firmly in the top rank of our most accomplished novelists.” —Andre Dubus III

“With Euphoria, Lily King gives us a searing and absolutely mesmerizing glimpse into 1930’s New Guinea, a world as savage and fascinating as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, where obsessions rise to a feverish pitch, and three dangerously entangled anthropologists will never be the same again. Jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly beautiful. I loved this book.” —Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

“I have come to expect Lily King’s nuanced explorations of the human heart, but in this novel she pulled me in to the exotic world of a woman anthropologist working with undiscovered tribes in 1930s New Guinea and I was totally captivated. Euphoria is a great book! So great, that I stayed up late to finish it.” —Karl Marlantes

“Writers are childlike in their enthusiasm about other writers’ good work. They’re thinking: How’d they ever think of that? That’s amazing/beautifully written/true! Imagine all the effort that went into pulling this off. Could I do something this original/surprising/moving? I’m always happy to read Lily King, and I particularly enjoyed reading Euphoria.” —Ann Beattie

“Fresh, brilliantly structured, and fully imagined, this novel radically transforms a story we might have known, as outsiders—but now experience, though Lily King’s great gifts, as if we’d lived it.” —Andrea Barrett

“Lily King delves into the intellectual flights and passions of three anthropologists—as complex, rivalrous and brutal as any of the cultures they study. Euphoria is a brilliantly written book.” —Alice Greenway

Awards

Winner of the 2014 Kirkus Prize
Winner of the 2014 New England Book Award for Fiction
New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2014
TIME Top 10 Fiction Books of 2014
New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books of 2014
NPR Best Books of 2014; Entertainment Weekly’s 10 Best Fiction Books of 2014
Washington Post Top 50 Fiction Books of 2014
Kirkus Reviews Best of 2014
Amazon 100 Best of 2014 #16
Publishers Weekly Best Fiction Books of 2014
Our Man in Boston’s Best of 2014
Oprah.com 15 Must Reads of 2014
Buzzfeed 32 Most Beautiful Book Covers of 2014
O, the Oprah Magazine, “10 Titles To Pick Up Now”
Elle “novel that needs to be in your beach bag”
CBS News “Must-have titles for your summer reading list”
USA Today pick for “Summer’s Hottest Titles”
Boston Globe Summer Reading Suggestion
St. Louis Post Dispatch “Books to carry on the road this summer”
Reader’s Digest Summer Reading List
Marie Claire “novel that needs to be in your beach bag”
A Salon Best Book of the Year
An Observer (UK) Best holiday reads 2014
An Indie Next Pick for June
A National Geographic Ultimate Summer #TripLit Reading List

Excerpt

As they were leaving the Mumbanyo someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe.
A pale brown thing.

“Another dead baby,” Fen said.

He had broken her glasses by then, so she didn’t know if he was joking.

Ahead lay the bright break in the curve of dark green where the boat would go. She concentrated on that. She did not turn around again. The few Mumbanyo on the beach were singing and beating the death gong for them, but she did not look to see them a last time. Every now and then when the four rowers—all standing, calling back to their people or out to other canoes—pulled at the same time, a small gust of wind struck her damp skin. Her lesions prickled and tightened, as if hurrying to heal in the brief dry air. The wind stopped and started, stopped and started.

She could feel the gap between sensation and recognition of it, and knew the fever was coming on again. The rowers ceased rowing to stab a snake-necked turtle and haul it into the boat, still writhing. Behind her, Fen hummed a dirge for the turtle, too low for anyone but her to hear.

Reading Group Guide

by Lindsey Tate

1. Set against the lush tropical landscape of 1930s New Guinea, this novel charts British anthropologist Andrew Bankson’s fascination for colleagues Nell Stone and her husband, Fen, a fascination that turns deadly. How far does the setting play a role in shaping events? Is there a sense that the three have created their own small universe on the banks of the Sepik River, far removed from the Western world? If so, by whose rules are they playing?

2. “She tried not to think about the villages they were passing . . . the tribes she would never know and words she would never hear, the worry that they might right now be passing the one people she was meant to study, a people whose genius she would unlock, and who would unlock hers, a people who had a way of life that made sense to her” (p. 8). In the light of this quote, discuss Nell Stone’s passion and need for anthropology and find ways in which they differ from Bankson’s and Fen’s. Talk about the significance of her childhood dream of being carried away by gypsies.

3. Continue your discussion by considering Nell’s statement: “If I didn’t believe they shared my humanity entirely, I wouldn’t be here . . . I’m not interested in zoology” (p. 55). Find instances in the novel in which she demonstrates this. How far do you agree, as Nell states, that it is an anthropologist’s role to encourage self-analysis and self-awareness in the tribes he/she studies?

4. Over the course of the novel we learn a great deal about Bankson’s childhood and young adulthood. Talk about the reasons and life events that brought him to anthropology. What has led him to the brink of suicide? How seriously do you think he views his statement: “The meaning of life is the quest to understand the structure and order of the natural world—that was the mantra I was raised on. To deviate from it was suicide” (p. 32).

5. Given his upbringing and his father’s passion for “hard” science, Nell’s focus on humanity instead of zoology must hold great appeal for Bankson. What else draws him to Nell, leaving him with “Fierce desires, a great tide of feeling of which I could make little sense, an ache that seems to have no name but want. I want” (p. 86). What exactly does Bankson want?

6. Discuss the ways in which Bankson’s attitude toward his work changes as he gets to know Nell and her research methods. Consider his acknowledgment of the limitations of an anthropologist’s work and discuss how far it is possible to ever get to know another’s culture. Take into account Bankson’s interest in the objectivity of the observer.

7. Take your discussion of the previous question a step further by considering whether it is ever possible to truly know another person. Apply your observations to Bankson’s views of Nell and Fen.

8. The theme of possession, of ownership, runs throughout the novel, twisting like the river Sepik itself through the relationships and conversations of the protagonists. Talk about Nell’s search for “a group of people who give each other the room to be in whatever way they need to be” (p. 88). Has she found this kind of freedom in any of the tribes she has studied? In any of her relationships? Talk specifically about Fen and Bankson.

9. Further your discussion by focusing on the idea of words and thoughts as things to be owned—as Nell states, “once I published that book and my words became a commodity . . .” (p. 91). How has this impacted her relationship with Fen? Consider her statement “I only know that when F leaves and B and I talk I feel like I am saying—and hearing—the first wholly honest words of my life” (p. 198).

10. On several occasions during the novel, Nell refers to an Amy Lowell poem, “Decade.” Why do you think the poem holds such meaning for her? How does the poem’s central idea—of feelings for a lover changing from the sweet, almost painful intensity of red wine into the blissful satisfaction of bread—relate to her and her own relationships?

11. While Nell declares later that “He is wine and bread and deep in my stomach” (p. 247), do you believe that Bankson was able to give Nell the freedom she was looking for? How or how not? Could it have led inevitably to her death?

12. How far would you consider Nell to be the epitome of a young, independent accomplished woman? Talk about her character, her personality, work habits and motivations. Then discuss her disturbing relationship with Fen, and her inability to escape his harm. How did she end up in such an untenable situation?

13. In one journal entry, Nell writes: “I am angry that I was made to choose, that both Fen & Helen needed me to choose, to be their one & only when I didn’t want a one & only” (p. 92). Consider Nell’s relationship with Helen as compared to her relationship with Fen and talk about the reasons she may have chosen Fen over Helen. Do you think that she made this decision or it was made for her?

14. Set against a distant backdrop of a Western world mired in doubt and economic depression, the novel can be seen to depict a search for understanding, for a sense of order. Look at the ways in which the study of the tribes of New Guinea reflects the protagonists’ desperate search for meaning—a search that can lead to a sense of failure or instead to Nell’s euphoria when “at that moment the place feels entirely yours” (p. 50). Find instances of despair and disillusionment for Nell, Fen, and Bankson in their various work experiences. How do they react?

15. What do the three of them really see in the tribes of New Guinea? To what extent, when unlocking the puzzles of the Kiona and the Tam, are they searching for meaning within themselves? How important is it to impending events that the Tam tribe appears to be female-dominated?

16. In the context of the previous two questions, talk about the significance of the Grid to the three anthropologists. What does it represent to them? Why does Bankson refer to a “shift in the stars” caused by the Grid?

17. Discuss the glimpses the novel gives into the world of 1930s colonialism—in the conversations with Westerners in New Guinea and in Australia; and in Bankson’s, Nell’s, and Fen’s attitudes to the tribes they study and the Western society to which they must eventually return. How, if at all, do Nell, Fen, and Bankson take colonial approaches toward their research practices and anthropological subjects? What is the role of Xambun as he rejoins his tribal village after being recruited by a Western company? Is it possible to live between the two worlds?

18. Fen briefly mentions a dark family secret, then continues the conversation to discuss the primitive world versus the “civilized world”: “Nothing in the primitive world shocks me, Bankson. Or I should say, what shocks me in the primitive world is any sense of order and ethics. All the rest—the cannibalism, infanticide, raids, mutilation—it’s all comprehensible, nearly reasonable, to me. I’ve always been able to see the savageness beneath the veneer of society” (p.137-38). What does this say about Fen? How far do you agree with his comment, especially in the light of events that follow in the novel?

19. For all of Nell and Bankson’s heartfelt conversations, and Bankson’s keen observations of her at work, there are many important things left unsaid. Nell states: “You don’t realize how language actually interferes with communication . . . how it gets in the way like an overdominant sense” (p. 79). Should Bankson have understood further Nell’s sadness within her marriage, Fen’s physical abuse? As a reader, do we miss the clues too?

20. Discuss Fen’s obsession with the flute, and the reasons why it ultimately leads to the destruction of so much: the anthropologists’ relationship with the Tam tribe, Fen’s relationship with Nell and Bankson. If Xambun had not been killed, would it have been acceptable for Fen to take the flute?

21. Continue your discussion to consider whether an anthropologist must always betray in some way the tribes he/she works with. How does Nell writing books about the people she studies differ from Fen selling the flute to a museum? Was Nell’s work in the field beneficial to the Tam or to the children of Kirakira? Are her reasons for working with them ultimately as selfish as Fen’s need to profit from the flute? How morally responsible are Bankson and Nell for Xambun’s death?

22. Fen justifies taking the flute so that he can restore balance to his relationship with Nell: “There has to be a balance. A man can’t be without power—it doesn’t work like that” (p. 238). Contrast this with Nell’s thoughts on balance: “[P]erhaps a culture that flourishes is a culture that has found a similar balance among its people” (p. 144). Do you think they are talking about the same thing? Does balance always need to rest on power?

23. Trace Bankson’s emotional and intellectual development throughout the course of the novel, ending with his visits from his biographer. How do you think his experience with Nell and Fen affected and changed him? Talk about what may have kept him going after Nell’s death. Why did he not revert back to his suicidal path? Consider the quote that holds so much meaning for him from war poet Edward Shillito’s “Hardness of Heart”: “Tears are not endless and we have no more.”

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad; Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna; The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara; State of Wonder by Ann Patchett; Bel Canto by Ann Patchett; Old Filth by Jane Gardam; The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver; The Signature of All Things by Elisabeth Gilbert; Rain and Other South Sea Stories by W. Somerset Maugham; Mating by Norman Rush; Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett; Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead; Sex and Temperament by Margaret Mead; Blackberry Winter by Margaret Mead

Lily King Q&A with Publishers Weekly.

Euphoria, the engrossing fourth book from King, is based on a chance encounter between the anthropologists Margaret Mead, Ron Fortune, and Gregory Bateson in 1930s Papua New Guinea.

PW: You have stated that the book was inspired by a chapter in Jane Howard’s 1984 biography of Margaret Mead. How did you come across that book?

LK: When I moved to Maine, one of my first friends was a woman named Cornelia who brought me to Casco Bay Books. It was closing so there was hardly anything left. The only thing I found was a biography of Margaret Mead. I started reading it and got to this part when Mead was 31. She was with her second husband [Reo Fortune], an anthropologist from New Zealand, and they were doing fieldwork in the Territory of New Guinea. Then she met Gregory Bateson and there was this immediate intellectual, emotional, and physical attraction. The chapter in [Howard’s] book is probably only 11 or 12 pages long, but I just stopped and thought, “This would make such a great novel!”

PW: How did you decide which facts to keep and which to embellish?

LK: When I started the novel, I thought that I was going to write the Margaret Mead story. But then my fiction writer self took over very quickly. Once I started writing the characters’ dialogue, they became different people. I had to make a choice between sticking to facts or writing what I thought would make a better novel. I was terrified the whole time because I’m used to writing characters who have sisters and fathers—people who live in houses with real walls. This was a departure in terms of the period, the geography, the science, the historical nature of it. But I kept telling myself, “If I can finish this, I can write anything.”

PW: Were there other changes?

LK: I originally tried to write the book from the perspective of Nell [the character based on Mead]. First it was going to be in third person. Then it was going to be first person. Then I was going to write it from all three points of view within a chapter. Then I wrote it with one perspective for each chapter. Finally I came to terms with the fact that it was Bankson’s [Bateson’s] story, and I wanted to tell it from his perspective.

PW: Is there a message that can be drawn from Euphoria?

LK: When [Mead et al.] arrived in the Territory of New Guinea, mining was already underway, plantations were underway; it was the beginning of the real rape of the land across the globe. I am definitely drawing a parallel between the way industry came in and the way the anthropologists came in and claimed their territories. They thought of those tribes as “my tribe, my people, my study.” They behaved like colonists. I am interested in what happens when you think of people like that—the consequences of that kind of possession.

PW: I read that you wrote the first draft of the novel in pencil—is that true?

LK: Yes! It’s the way I’ve been writing fiction since I was in ninth grade. Then I go and type up the whole thing, literally. It’s not a revision process; I have to choose the words, one by one, again. It’s a really important step for me.

Book Trailer: Euphoria