30 Women Novelists You Should Know – #12 Lily King

As I count down the days to the launch of my novel Her Own Vietnam, I’m writing about wonderful women novelists.

Gorgeous writing and powerful emotional pull, if you like that sort of thing

I’ve now read three of Lily King’s four novels, and I still can’t say exactly what it is that stamps a novel as a work of Lily King. The books are so different, set in different times and places with characters who share little in common, united only by the gorgeous writing and the powerful emotional pull of each novel.

The Pleasing Hour is about a young American woman who goes to Paris to work as an au pair and escape a tragedy in her past, only to find that the past is more alive in Europe than anywhere, and that tragedy shadows us all.

In The English Teacher, a high school English teacher with a teenaged son marries a man with teenagers of his own, and her world begins to unravel. Once you read this book, you’ll never think of Tess of the D’Ubervilles the same way again.


Her latest book, Euphoria, is about three anthropologists in the 1930s, studying and living among tribes in Papua New Guinea. The three scientists – an American woman who has written a shocking and best-selling book about the sex lives of a tribe, her Australian husband and an English man they know only slightly – plunge into a love triangle that’s a vortex of passion, intellectual zeal, rivalry, ambition, and perhaps a dash of madness.

The novel immediately creates an atmosphere of peril and strangeness. By the time I read the first five sentences, I was hooked: I had to know what had happened and what would happen next, even though I suspected it would be harrowing. And it was – harrowing, and uplifting and most of all, fascinating. The details about how anthropologists conduct their work and their lives were astounding.

A growing sense of dread

As I read, I was gripped by a growing sense of dread, both that something awful was about to happen and that the book was coming to an end. You know that feeling of grief you have when you finish a beloved book? Well, authors feel that too, as Lily King wrote here.

On my bookshelf, Lily King’s Euphoria stands next to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. It seems fitting.

Lily King

Lily King

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