Book Club Guide—Euphoria, by Lily King

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With its fictional portrayal of storied anthropologist Margaret Mead, its culture clash between Western mores and Third World tribes, and its exploration of gender stereotypes and sex, Euphoria by Lily King is rife with possibilities for a book club discussion. If you want to add a little intrigue, serve only wine and bread—or at least pretend to at first—and make friends choose just one. Below are some topics to guide your discussion. (Click here for The Snail’s post on Euphoria.)

Love triangle:

“They might have needed me,” Bankson says. “But I needed them far more.” What is it that he needs so desperately from Nell and Fen? Are they able to satisfy his need?

Would Nell and Fen’s relationship have suffered if they hadn’t ever met Bankson?

Sex and gender:

How does Nell’s gender influence her work as an anthropologist?

Margaret Mead became famous for her 1928 work Coming of Age in Samoa, a study of adolescent girls in the Samoan Islands which was controversial for its characterization of sexual norms in that culture. In Euphoria, what do we know about Nell’s attitude toward sex, for herself and in her work? How does sex figure into her study of the tribes she lives with?

What role do pregnancy and childbirth play in the novel? How does Nell view pregnancy personally and professionally?

How does Nell describe “euphoria”? Does she experience or achieve it? Does anyone else?

Read “Decade,” by Amy Lowell, and discuss its influence on the novel and Nell’s choices. Who is bread and who is wine? Which does she choose, and did she choose wisely?

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,
But I am completely nourished.

Power and greed:

Power is a common theme running through this novel, and it seems to shift based on events and perspectives. Which character is most in search or need of power? Based on each character’s viewpoint, what would bring him or her power? Who seems to have the most power most of the time?

Explain Fen’s obsession with the flute. Is there any part of his pursuit that is understandable or okay?

“Us” versus “Them”:

Describe the different tribes the novel introduces us to. What do the characters learn from each one?

As anthropologists, do Nell, Fen, and Bankson appropriately “study” the cultures they are living among? In what ways do they cross the line from “studying” to “colonizing” these peoples?

The Grid theory of culture the three characters create is based on a real map devised by Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson. Mead’s group never made theirs public, in part because of the damaging consequences it could have. Consider the Grid presented in the novel. Do you find any truth to this characterization of the different poles of personality and culture? How do the three characters fall onto the Grid? What consequences does it end up having—on the characters and on the world?

What happens to Xambun after going to work for the Western company and then returning to his tribe? How could things have turned out differently for him?