, June 18, 2014
(view all comments by Lance Cromwell)
What a gorgeous, heart-breaking novel, rich with detail and human understanding! Though fiction, it breathes with the lives it describes, and could be taken as anthropological text, not only of the peoples of the times and places it is set(and loosely based upon), but also of us supposedly modern humans who love, hurt, inspire, screw things up, and discover ourselves in others. It is a magnificent read, and one that should light up a broad spectrum of those who love books.
It unspools as if on old super-8 stock, but is stunningly clear, too. All scratchy, sepia tones, and shaky, real movements, and riveting in its raw look at things seldom captured in such a way. All too easy to get so caught up in the lives of Nell and Bankson and Fen, that you forget about the technical wizardry of King's laying words down end-to-end, in a structure that is spot-on, and provocative. You seemlessly weave in and out of the two primary narrators' perspectives, and it would seem that you are in different heads, but then, maybe not. Maybe you are exclusively in the head of the anthropologist, who makes it seem like there are objective bits of fact to be seen and explored, but really you are seeing the people, and the culture, as the anthropologist sees them. And this is just many of the incredible facets of this book: that it can put you, fundamentally, in the position of being the anthropoligist. Piecing together the narrative of a people, and of people, from the bits that well up in the river of history. A stunning literary achievement, that is a page turner, too.
And oh my god, some of those sentences! Kudos to King for crafting a number of unforgettable, incredibly layered, finely wrought sentences... This would be one of those times where words, or at least my words, cannot even get close to describing... Well, I suppose it is better to let her words wash over you, and arrest you all on their own.
Euphoria is such a varied collection of types of love, and care, and passion, but also of carelessness, and ambition, and loathing. This is not a summery love tale, or a bucolic version of long ago folks; it is straight-forward and honest, ripe with disease, and rot, and human failure, as much as it is with sublime intangibles. It is beautiful - absolutely - but beautiful because of the care King takes in her raw portrayal of these peoples, as seen through others' eyes.
If I were tasked to choose a painting to cast as perfect analog to this book (which somehow seems apt... not just because of the intriguing cover of the novel, all bright colors and thick-paint-streaks, but because it would be a choice of a very particular vision, a well-thought-out version of a scene or story, as rendered by an artist, with great intuition. A powerfully affecting visual rendering.), it would be truly difficult. You could go so many different ways! The photo-realism of the mid-Nineteenth Century (reacting to the new technology of cameras, to new ways to 'see' and record!)? The earthiness of a Gauguin 'Primitivist' portrait? The electricity and brilliance of a Matisse, both intellectually stimulating in form, and striking in color and kinetic vibrancy? Perhaps the raw, moody emotion of abstraction and subtle color of a Rothko? Better yet, the incredible mash-up (waaay before that was a term) of a painting like Henri Rousseau's "The Dream", painted just before the artist died, and imagined from his avid reading, and visits to the Paris zoo and local hothouses. That one would definitely be in the running...
I suppose I might alight on Magritte's "The Titanic Days", completed several years before Nell, Fen and Bankson meet up in Euphoria. Using the age old tools of blues and greys and a myriad of skin tones, and of the story of struggle between a man and a woman (or more likely between 'Woman' and 'Man'), he renders something modern, and eerily beautiful, but unsettling, and maybe a little nauseating. It is nothing if not arresting. My guess is it was long in the making, an elaborate process to realize what appears to be a simple vision, or maybe the manifestation of a bit of a dream. You'd really need the whole of a bunch of museums to even begin to get at all that is in this book, but for a thought-experiment, the sophisticated, inventive simplicity of "The Titanic Days" will do. For me. I'd be curious to hear what painting you would choose....
For this novel inspires conversation and will confound people in their efforts to slot it into a single category, as much as it will cause introspection and reflection. It is one of those things, I think, that people will try to peg, so as to describe to others, but will have to go off into other mediums to sort of give an idea of what the words did to them.
But, Lily King's Euphoria, is a book, not a painting, and it is well-worth reading. My guess is, it is well-worth re-reading, and I look forward to my next trip into it, so as to get even more out of this stunning gem of a book.
I can truthfully say that about all four of King's books, but this one, even more so. To quote King, quoting Nell Stone, who is talking about her work: "...at that moment the place feels entirely yours. Its the briefest, purest euphoria." That is the experience I had of reading this novel. I wanted it to go on longer, but was amazed by the purity of my elation, my brief euphoria.
I urge you to go find a copy and dig in!