Book Review, Euphoria

Sooooo I’ve realized that I never actually posted the review about Euphoria despite talking often about it. This review will have spoilers but I’ll remind again when I get to them!

Overall, I was nervous about first picking up this book. It is very popular, and at the beginning it seems without substance. Though I was grabbed, I was not taken away by the beginning of the novel. But then Lily King really gets going. And I felt lost and desperate, truly feeling the fever that the characters themselves experience. Read the book, give it a chance, let me know what you think. I think it is a beautiful celebration of women, a women-centered culture, a woman is highlighted as the main character, a woman author. Euphoria exceeds expectations, (Harry Potter style).

I’m going to start out by describing some negatives that I found throughout the book,

  • At the beginning of the novel, I found the language unremarkable though they would be littered with sentences like,”I came to see that the whole Darwinian story of the fat-beaked finches eating nuts and the thin-beaked finches eating…,” I can just imagine Bankson arriving in the Galapagos, being like what the hell, looking around, does anyone else see this? They’re all eating the same things! Why are you guys all nodding along? Guys!
  • Sometimes I felt like the sentences were not representing of the characters, like when Bankson said, “History hung suspended for months. I took solace in the not knowing,” why?
  • I thought that at first, the characters of Nell, Fen, Bankson and his parents were painted too heavily with the brush of good or evil. Bankson and Nell were good, Fen and Bankson’s parents were evil (“Stalin to his Lenin”)
  • Further I was not convinced (in the beginning) of the attraction between Bankson and Nell, I suffered with the question, is this trite?
  • Spoiler the Fen and Bankson kiss felt pointless to me. Some may disagree, but it seemed like a plot twist that had no real role.

There are a lot more good things than bad, so brace yourself…

  • Lily King beautifully discusses anthropology, the difficulties that the subject goes through
  • I thought she did a great job discussing the heartbreaking nature of these colonies. They were later taken over, their beautiful culture destroyed. It is this great struggle between modernization and colonization. Like, “She wished she could show him a Van Gogh, the self-portraits,” portrays a really complicated line, very deftly.
  • Then the novel, at around 100 pages I would say? really changes, you can truly feel the energy shift and especially when Bankson returns the second time. Hellen’s character, which at once seemed unneccessary, takes a clear role in advancing the characters. I was wrapped up in the details that King unfolded, the way that she wrote that portrayed clearly the academic frenzy the three felt.
  • A great book is able to ask questions, the “why?” without seeming cliche. King was able to do that. She built and built and built until Nell said, “Do you think it’s natural, the desire to possess another person?” And it felt natural.
  • I was completely sold on Bankson and Nell by the end, the writing reflected the changes that Fen also felt when Bankson arrived. He was a life force.
  • King navigated beautifully around Fen’s crime. Where does his real crime come in? How many steps away are Bankson and Nell in fault? Is what they do similar? It is so blurry, so ironically juxtaposed.
  • Spoiler the end is truly heartbreaking. The violence that Nell endured, to her body, because she was a woman, is so terribly sad. This is a beautiful novel about the strength of a woman, the acceptance that come along with the small mistreatments, the resentments. The end does not end hopefully, I was left with an intense feeling of loss. A desperate sense of loss.

I was blown away.

Other great passages:

My father had produced three of those foot soldiers. It was hard to convince him of anything else.

I’m seeing now from this vantage point that all the times he’s hovered over the bed, scolding me, hounding me to get up, it’s been fear, no fury.

He smelled like the West.

Bankson doesn’t like it when the colonists talk about where money comes from.

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Book Recommendation Wednesday!

I’m going to start presenting my favorite book of the week, for the non-illiteration “Book Recommendation Wednesday!”
I would also love to hear things that I should be reading! Some of my favorite authors, Calvino, Pamuk, etc. have been from suggestions, so please comment / message / etc.

This week I’ve chosen (*drum roll*), No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July. When I first heard of this collection of short stories, I knew it was suppose to be odd. Yet even with that mindset, I was shocked by the book. By the first story I was confused, shocked, awed. July types your deepest secrets, the off-putting fantasies you dream about and realities that you could never see on television. The experience of reading it is unique. Cover-to-cover, you will probably be done in one sitting.

Admittedly, this is not a novel for everyone. The manner of writing is uncomfortable, voiceless yet very distinct. For those readings, I’ve chosen Euphoria, a novel that needs some time to get into, unlike No One Belongs Here More Than You, but once King hits her stride the novel is truly astounding.
5/20

Meeting Lily King

(terrible pic, sorry, I was in the back)

Lily King bought Margaret Mead’s biography from a store without ever thinking she was going to read it. When she finally did she thought, that would make a great story, but she never thought that she was going to write it. Now look at us, she’s a top selling author, and I’m right here blogging about her!

Anyways, I don’t go to book signings often, but Lily King was in the area so I was like Ahhh, gotta go. She was at a local book store, talking about her writing process, how she came upon the  topic for Euphoria and took questions. It was pretty cute because King writes in a notebook her entire story. Thats right, there is a notebook out there with all of Euphoria written in it. Don’t you feel just.. euphoric?

She also talked about how the book was originally in Mead’s point of view, then it shifted to her lover’s over time because she felt like she identified more with him. It was interesting to hear how King approached the story from a very flexible point of view. Though it is inspired by Margaret Mead’s life, she changed a lot of the details as she was writing the story.

Overall, she was a very humble and humbling person to meet, (ps, her hair is really that great in person too!). If you have the chance, read Euphoria!

Hits, misses and a couple that went out of the park

Euphoria has exceeded so many peoples’ expectations (because covers can never do a good job explaining why a book is great…). Cannot recommend enough to read it! My own review of the full book is coming soon (:

The Bone Island Book Blog

FullSizeRender-4Some recent reading that exceeded my expectations

The novel I really want other people to read so we can talk about it is Euphoria by Lily King. It’s historical fiction, though set in the early 20th century in New Guinea, not my usual time and place. It’s based on a period from the life of Margaret Mead though heavily fictionalized. And it’s mesmerizing. Also short enough that you can, essentially, read it at one sitting. It was one of those books where I was intentionally making myself slow down so it would last longer.

The Trip to Echo Spring is about writers and drinking. It’s a portrait of six alcoholic writers, two of whom are Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway, so it features a Key West visit. But it’s not a clinical or sociological dissection – more of a literary meditation and travelogue as the author travels around the country visiting…

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How would you compare the work of an anthropologist with that of a novelist?
I think they are almost the same thing. Both a novelist and an anthropologist ask the same thing: How do people live? Mead said in a New Yorker interview: “The whole world is my field.” A writer would say the exact same thing. (Lily King)

 

Full interview (http://www.vogue.com/872367/lily-king-margaret-mead-novel-euphoria/)

How to Deal with Sensitive Topics, Lily King

One of my favorite things, from the beginnings of the novel Euphoria was how well I thought that Lily King dealt with very sensitive issues. I was amazed how well she described minor interactions, ones that can be very gendered specific and not unusual. She was not heavy handed, and I was really impressed with her descriptions of suicide in the beginning of the novel.

For example,
Bankson’s brothers both died; Martin committed suicide. Bankson describes Martin as very funny and not a serious person. He states,

Why had Martin been so serious about that one thing? Couldn’t he have been serious about something else?

This sentence deftly deals with a lot of the anger that the family’s of suicide victims feel. He was angry, he didn’t understand, yet Lily King describes this feeling in a darkly comedic fashion. Further, the narrator states,

If the war had not interrupted his trajectory, he would have most likely gone on to become the fourth Bankson to be a Cambridge don. John would have placated Father, and Martin would have been at liberty to follow his fancies.

This statement shows the reach of John’s death in war. Perhaps he would have gone on to be a scientist, and Martin could have done what he wanted and perhaps he would have never committed suicide. King shows how war is so disruptive to families, how death is so disruptive in ways that we cannot predict or imagine.

Additionally, the first sex scene between Nell and Fen is truly brutal. It is described as so,

‘Stick it in,’ Fen said. ‘Stick it in right now.’

There was no reasoning with him, no speaking of dryness or timing or oncoming fevers or lesions that would open when rubbed against the linen sheets. They would leave bloody stains and the Taway maids would think it was menstrual blood and have to burn them for superstitious reason, these beautiful fresh clean sheets.

She stuck it in.

It is a painful section to read. We can read between the lines at the quiet pain that Nell must have been going through, especially at the later descriptions of her sickly state. I like that Lily King describes such an uncomfortable sex scene, something which is probably common, yet not talked about often. It is this pressure that Nell feels, that is practically indescribable, but the reader can feel it as we read this passage.

Well done, Lily King!