Book Review: Euphoria by Lily King

This year I set myself a goal to read more. It’s not the first year I do this, but it’s the year of Me. I think I’ve set a challenge three years now and I’ve only met one. PATHETIC. Netflix and Chillin’ is just too good to pass up.

Follow me on GoodReads… you know what? Don’t. I update as I go along, but that’s about it. If I take time to write about a book it will be here and GoodReads is just a tracking tool. But, if you choose to here is my profile information: Monica’s GoodReads.

One of my “things” this year is to read books I’ve had in my library for some time. Euphoria was bought in 2014 and as evidenced by this post, read in 2018. #GOALS. What I like about it is that it has a book club readers guide to discussing the book. I will take a couple of questions and discuss among the voices in my head. There are 13 questions and I’m going to respond to question 1 and question 7. I haven’t read them so it’ll be a surprise for us all…

#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 whole rules are they playing?

Oh, boy! First of all, I didn’t even realize it was in the 1930s. OK, seriously. Firstly, I’d like to point out that I really enjoyed the setting and the time of the novel. I think it gives it that sense of so much unknown and mystery and at the same time how far the anthropological sciences have come. Since the novel is based on Bankson’s POV I will write as “he” “him” “his” instead of referring to the author’s pronouns (I’m assuming so don’t @ me) of “she” “her” “hers”.  Secondly, I liked that it was written as a recollection of memories and the novel ends in the “present”. It allows for retrospect on his accounts and experiences and feelings. I enjoyed reading how nostalgic he was and how he saw himself change and seemingly grow when Nell was around him. Thirdly, I read this with a POC lens so there were parts in which I scoffed and even felt disdain toward this trio. Not so much against Bankson, more on Nell and Fen. Some of the interactions were rude, presumptuous, disrespectful – gross! Fen and Nell had “work for reward” systems for the young of the tribe. She had commands and expectations for them and that was very intrusive for me. Bankson observed this of them and felt as if maybe he was doing his job wrong the whole time. Each had their way of approach to yield the results of their personal agendas or thesis or whatever they felt their purpose.

Fen is not my favorite, I don’t even think I like him at all. He embodies that endless thirst for the unknown but in a very destructive, and ultimately deadly way. He’s jealous of Nell’s success and hates that he’s toeing behind her. He is self-righteous and in some instances intolerable. But somehow, he brings out something in each Nell and Bankson’s work, so I guess in some ways his assholeness served to further their convictions and understand what they individually loved about the field and the work. He’s in search of a sacred flute that is believed to be the first writing system among the tribes along the Sepik River. He wants it, guess for what? MONEY! What a surprise. He convinces Xambun, a young should-be-king male that was taken to work as a slave mine worker who returned a changed man, to join him on the expedition to this secret place he mentally recorded the route to. But when they return, Xambun is dead with a perfectly placed gunshot wound to the head. Fen claims they were chased by a rival tribe and that his use of a magic spell to be invisible worked and that’s why he wasn’t targeted (major side-eye).

Bankson is in love with Nell but Nell is married to Fen. Fen knows Bankson has feelings for Nell. Eventually Nell and Bankson bang it out. Bankson is like a balance between Fen and Nell. Nell works and functions by writing, thinking, talking; a true ethnographer. Fen is a doer. He likes being among the tribe, building, experiencing. He is very observant, but he tends to assume reason and custom to fit his narrative and rarely writes anything down. Bankson is a true romantic for the science. He was supposed to be a biologist by family trade, but anthropology stole him. He’s very self-doubting and questions the reason for his being among the tribes and has trouble in knowing exactly what he’s observing, what he should write down, what matters and what doesn’t. There is journal Bankson is given by Nell’s former lover, Helen, in which he gets to read her personal thoughts and feelings outside of her work related writing. In this journal Nell writes that she believes both Fen and her are in love with Bankson for that balance he creates between them. He reads her last entry. She’s going to leave Fen and go to Bankson. Bankson was actually going to meet her in New York when he got the news that she was dead and that Fen quickly did a ceremony in which she ended up in the ocean (yo, what? suspicious as hell!).

The setting is perfect for a man like Fen to turn his passions into a deadly and money driven endeavor. He’s a white man among tribesmen/woman trying to solve the human puzzle of being and sees himself as superior. He can do no wrong because he’s in the right. Toward the end of the novel its revealed/confirmed that he beats on Nell. Bankson of course hates himself for not noticing the red flags. Because Bankson is so in love with Nell and Nell is so used to Fen’s antics, everyone is playing by Fen’s rules. Yes, Fen was upset that they left their last location, but I think, NOW, that it was because Nell needed to get out of that environment. She was ill, sickly, gaunt when Bankson reunited with them. So this leads me to believe that Nell hid their problems really well and because of her love for her work, put up with Fen. Fen does say how they are on her grant money and she’s the reason they are where they are, so to some extent, he has to abide by SOME of her requests – like leaving!

— should I stop here? Has your attention span left this place?

#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 view of Nell and Fen.

Read the response to question 1. LULZ! Question 6 is asking to discuss ways in which Bankson’s attitude toward his work changes as he gets to know Nell and her research methods and to consider his acknowledgement of the limitations of an anthropologists work and to discuss how far it is possible to ever get to know another’s culture; taking into account Bankson’s interest in the objectivity of the observer.

I guess I did all of that in my response to question 1 tee-hee! But I will add… I don’t think it’s ever possible to truly know a person. Can you imagine walking around speaking every thought, opinion, or expressing every feeling or emotion or lack thereof. I believe all of that shapes us in a way and our minds filter all of that and what does come to the surface is that final sift. A few corrections or amendments, but yea I would rather not know someone fully because I wouldn’t want them to know ME fully. There is a beauty in someone’s mystery. To wonder what thoughts they have and then to engage in that moment of discussion is profound – not always, but when it happens you end up knowing someone “at a deeper level”. The problem with that thinking is that we end up making our assumptions of a person. I have so many conversations in my head with other people and it’s all what I THINK they will say, how I THINK they will respond, etc.

Bankson was so lonely. He lost a brother to war and another to suicide. He lost his father too and is left only with his annoying ass mom. Nell and Fen subscribed to the notion that the Sepik territories belonged to Bankson and he didn’t like that. It made him lonely. The fact that so many anthropologists stayed away and deprived him of company because they thought that was HIS area. So when Nell and Fen came along, not only had his previous feelings for Nell surfaced, but both of them brought something out in him. New ways of thinking and approach, a new thirst for his work. He was enamored with both of them and they in some ways, were in love with him.

Do I recommend this book? YAS!

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