So, if you’ve heard of this book at all, you’ve probably heard the rave reviews. And, I got to be honest here, I completely agree. This book is incredible. Honestly, the best book I’ve read in a really long time.
I guess I should explain that a little bit. When I was in High School, my AP English teacher broke down all stories to its bare bones, like the calcium deposits of the stories. Our brains were trained to see the simple structure that all stories take. Every story is about a journey, a quest, if you will. The main character has a motivation which puts them on this quest. During their journey, they discover obstacles, whether internal or external, that block the character from their original goal. The story ends either by the main character succeeding in their quest or not.
Here’s an example, in any romance novel you have ever read, what keeps the characters from one another is usually an internal and external problem. The internal playing into the external, most of the time. So let’s say that he or she is questioning about who they may want, promises they have made to other’s, what is or isn’t expected of them. With all those questions they become very stalled in their life, becoming the first obstacle. Whether the solution is or isn’t for the two characters to come together is up to the author, but it’s safe to say that most of the time the solution is for the characters to have a happily ever after. The second obstacle becomes that external one. The actions or reactions involved with foil characters, economic situations, even geographical locations. And this is where most authors tend to bring that ‘nail-biting’ situation that you knew was going to come into play at some point, that fake-but-dramatic-it-won’t-work-but-we-all-know-it-really-will, and most of the time it’s a problem that could have been completely and totally avoided if the characters were smarter or if the author was. Finally, you reach the very cathartic happily ever after or depressing never gonna happen.
So where is the real joy in discovering a story if you already know how it’s going to end and a pretty good idea after twenty pages what’s going to happen?
Lily King diverges from all of that. Her writing, is what I think is the best way to describe it, as delicate. A soft touch with details that allows your mind, not to over-compensate, but highlight those little ticks in the characters. My absolute favorite was the way that she describes how they work, bringing to life that passion and quirk in it. Cause if you think about it, does anyone truly work in the same manner? Standing or sitting, pacing or still, listening to music or listening to nothing, it was just beautiful watching people work. Is that something anyone has ever said before? Maybe if they’re watching their soul mate work, but it was truly incredible. I’ve never enjoyed reading about someone at a desk more than in this book.
But let me actually give you a run down of the story. Our three main characters are all passionate anthropologists in the 1930s, which was the height of cultural expeditions and misunderstanding. They all first come together on a boat scouting for their next tribe that has not yet been ‘claimed’ by other anthropologists or anthropological expeditions. For the first few days, they discover how well they all mesh. They bring out the best in each other, peaking in their communication, and spit-balling ideas like none of them had ever done before. They do, eventually, part ways for some time, letting each other separately work in their new habitats. When they come back together, they find that the passion and shared interest that first brought them together is now building riffs between them. With those riffs come dangerous ideas, questionable motivations, and irrevocable changes in their relationships. The ending is, in the only way I can think of to describe it, so satisfying. It’s not cathartic or depressing, it doesn’t leave you with a burden of questions and ignored hopes. It just leaves you with this peaceful acceptance, something you can think about without having questions roll on and what ifs cutting in. It’s just really perfect.
I know this wasn’t as specific as I usually get with my reviews, summaries, etc. But, this is a story I really don’t want to reveal too much about. This is a story you should experience through the pages and not online. I don’t think I could recommend a book more than I recommend this book. It is a quick and lovely read.
Just a quick photo of one of the inspirations for this story. This is Margaret Mead, an American anthropologist that was, in the press’ perspective, the face of anthropology in the 1960s and 1970s. She wrote, approximately, 40 books on her various cultural studies, from places as far away as New Guinea and as close as the United States.