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Tuesday
Sep222015

Anthropologists Behaving Badly

In the final days of 1932, three field-weary anthropologists meet and take stock of one another in colonial New Guinea, at a government station on the Sepik River. One of them, Nell Stone, is malarial, hobbling, covered in ulcers, and squinting – her glasses have been smashed by her husband, Schuyler Fenwick, and she has recently suffered a miscarriage, another result of his outbursts. At a party they encounter Andrew Bankson, a young Englishman who, after two years of living in a treehouse, has recently tried to drown himself, only to be rescued by bemused tribesmen.

Bankson persuades the couple to set up on the Sepik. He promises to find them a “decent” tribe to study, a day’s boat ride away from his own. They will be close enough to keep him from feeling desperately alone, far enough away that they won’t feel that their work is stepping on his toes. Bankson dresses Nell’s wounds with the kind sensitivity that spells romantic trouble. He escorts the couple to their new study site, and awaits the right day to reappear in their lives. 

My review of Lily King's Euphoria, a clever if gothic take on a reveletory sexual and intellectual episode in the life of Margaret Mead...