Sunday, April 3, 2016

EUPHORIA, a rare treat...anthropology, New Guinea, and good reading in one book!


Grove Press
$16.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers’ deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with colleagues, the controversial Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband Fen, pulls him back from the brink. Nell and Fen have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo and, in spite of Nell’s poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control.

My Review: Five stars were well within reach, in fact were more or less guaranteed, but there was a problem. Well, isn't there always. But this is my happy place:
I asked her if she believed you could ever truly understand another culture. I told her the longer I stayed, the more asinine the attempt seemed, and that what I’d become more interested in is how we believed we could be objective in any way at all, we who each came in with our own personal definitions of kindness, strength, masculinity, femininity, God, civilisation, right and wrong.
Yum. And many more like it:
It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion – you’ve only been there eight weeks – and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at the moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.
But the beautiful writing is only part of the story. The plot follows, not overly closely to be sure, the New Guinea experiences of Margaret Mead and her team. But as we draw closer and closer to the end, the setting changes to Australia and becomes pot-boilery, overheated, and unconvincing to me.

It is, however, one of the last passages set in the 1930s that made me shout at the page: The events of the ending made little sense in the context of the story that preceded them. Unworthy of a writer of the caliber Lily King is.

But the ride...the pages flying and the telephone ignored and the dinner gulped...that can't be discounted or devalued by a misstep, no matter how infuriating I found it.

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