Euphoria is a fictionalization of Sylvia Plath’s last year (1961-1962) and a vivid portrait of a brilliant mind engaged in battle with the world, with those she loves – and with herself.
When the novel opens, Sylvia is pregnant with her second child and glowing with the promise of the new adventure upon which she and Ted Hughes have set out: renovating an old vicarage far from the filth of the big city, raising a family in a kingdom of their own. Before the babies came, Ted was her partner in all things; they were two intellectuals crashing through life and taking from it what they wanted. But now Ted disappears easily to his writing studio while Sylvia finds herself left behind, an animal beleaguered by her young. She wants so much – to write, to love, to live, to make her mark on the world. But wherein lies her immortality, in the children she nourishes with her body or in the words she pins to the page in stolen moments?
The world is at once contracting and expanding for Sylvia Plath. She feels imprisoned by her love for Ted – she cannot think, cannot write while he is there. At the same time, she is addicted to him, unmoored without him, and he is rapidly slipping through her fingers. Because while Ted’s success as a poet grows, so does his hunger for something other than the insular world of their little family.
As their first summer arrives in Devon, the crab-apple trees are heavy with fruit and the roses bloom in thick bunches, but their smell is sweet with decay and everywhere weeds have strangled the spring’s hopeful plantings. Ted has abandoned Sylvia with their children while he beds his mistress in London. His betrayal leaves Sylvia alternately intoxicated by her own power and obliterated by her loss. In this state of euphoria, she is about to reach the greatest height of her creative powers as a writer. She has decided to die, but the art she will create in her last weeks will set her name ablaze.
Ending before her suicide in February 1963, the novel seeks to reframe the narrative about one of the 20th Century’s most famous (and infamous) poets to center on life – rather than death. Elin Cullhed’s Sylvia Plath is incandescent, and her irresistible litany lends a collective voice to women everywhere who stand with one foot in domesticity and the other in artistic creation.
With Euphoria, Elin Cullhed has written an acutely modern story belonging to our own particular cultural moment, when a woman’s fight to claim her terrain is up against a presumption of equality. Written as though in a fever, the novel hurtles into the literary canon like the woman it portrays: with fierce intelligence, manic irreverence, and a perfect pitch.
“Euphoria is a masterpiece.”
“Wow, how Elin Cullhed uses her material! She is precisely as respectful and brutal as one must be when one writes freely about someone else’s life. She writes a character who becomes entirely her own; the real Sylvia Plath’s life is only a scaffolding that she climbs in order to erect her own, personal architecture. Euphoria is a novel about motherhood, marriage, and being a writer. It is a raw story told from the inside of a mother, wife and poet’s mind and heart. It is painful and merciless, completely free of glorification. […] The narratives are worn. Both Plath and Hughes own stories, their shared story and the larger story about being a hungry mother and wife on the hunt for a room of one’s own. And yet, Cullhed manages to imbue new, fresh life into it and I think it is because she so consistently tells the story from within Sylvia; the reader is allowed to follow every thought and feeling that races through her body. In this way, Euphoria – even though it is stylistically markedly different – is reminiscent of Vigdis Hjorth who has made introspection her signature. Also Cullhed can make the incantatory first appear repetitive only to then blaze with full force. When every little detail is permitted to expand, Cullhed’s Sylvia grows into an entire world.[…] Euphoria is no moral, educational tale. The writer’s Sylvia Plath is a lovable but also capricious and maddeningly provoking person. She is not someone you cheer on without reservation, but Elin Cullhed makes sure that you want to walk by her side – through everything.”
SVENSKA DAGBLADET (SE)
“In this novel, it is not the depressed and suicidal Sylvia Plath that we meet. Rather, it is the ambivalent, exuberant, electric person that struggled to coexist as both a mother and a poetic genius. Cullhed portrays with great perception and great tenderness the ongoing, violent crash between motherhood and being an ideal wife on one hand, and poetry and beauty on the other. […] I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that Elin Cullhed was and is obsessed with Sylvia Plath. But do you, as a reader, need to already be a devoted Sylvia Plath-fan in order to enjoy Cullhed’s novel? Do you even need to have read a single word of her writing or know who she is? I don’t think so. Cullhed writes about being a mother and being an artist, about pregnancy, joy and depression, about children, annoying mothers, idiotic men, jealousy, romantic love, self-doubt and hubris. In short: big, human subjects. […] Something I will carry with me from my reading of Euphoria is how Cullhed depicts the psychological tug-of-war between depression and joy, self-annihilation and arrogance. One does not preclude the other; on the contrary, they can very well amplify each other. Suicidal people writing about dark subjects can often fall into cliché. It is therefore brilliant how Cullhed chooses to accentuate the joy, ecstasy, and humor of Sylvia Plath and how she allows her subject to claim that she wants to write joyous and happy texts. […] Euphoria is, quite simply, an excellent novel that shows that literature can conquer death.”
“Throughout the years, there has been a great deal of speculation as to what made Sylvia Plath want to die. Elin Cullhed does something else entirely. She writes a person of flesh and blood out of the wreckage of myth and biographical fact, out of posthumous texts and the whispers and well-founded interpretations of Sylvia Plath’s surroundings. […] It could have been both forced and a little distasteful, to try to recreate the frame of mind of the condemned poet, to try to crawl under the skin one of the late twentieth century’s mist iconic writers. But Elin Cullhed succeeds in balancing on that knife’s edge; she makes her fictional reimagining of Sylvia Plath’s last year both chilling and intelligent. She writes forth the vibrating emotion while at the same time gazing at the elegy over a life with hawk-eyed reserve. […] I fall headfirst into a novel with so many words, so unfathomably many feelings. About love and art, women and men, about how and why we want to live. […] Euphoria is a dreamy mix of Sylvia Plath and Elin Cullhed. Their voices come together and break apart in a furiously beautiful stylistic triumph. The work itself is a piece of burning escapism for us readers to lose ourselves in. The gaze on the world has something Virginia Woolf:ish about it: the philosophyzing, creating distance to others. The physical descriptions are reminiscent of Moa Martinsson’s portraits of women and the direct tone has shades of Sonja Åkesson’s gallows humor and sharpness. This is a loving and contradiction-filled reimagining of a woman’s life, work and longing. […] Euphoria by Elin Cullhed is a literary masterpiece that will, at the very least, be nominated for the August Prize.”
“Elin Cullhed finds a language that undulates between the poetic and the crassly material, that paints beautiful images and then crushes them against the linoleum floor. She imbues the mythical ‘Sylvia Plath’ with a life that is grand, pitiful and relatable, tragic and drastic with a touch of wry humor. The book ends before the end, in the middle of the manic joy, the forced hope in the future, which doesn’t make it any less painful. Quite the opposite.”
“In this literary reimagining of an icon, Elin Cullhed dives straight into the story of Sylvia Plath, from inside her own mind. Cullhed makes Plath contemporary, without it feeling forced; perhaps she makes her into an authorial sister.”
SVT KULTUR (SE)
“Euphoria is a literary exploit of the highest calibre and does justice to the utterly complex personality that was Sylvia Plath. For those who have read The Bell Jar and Sylvia’s poetry, it’s clear how well-grounded Elin Cullhed is in her protagonist’s way of thinking and feeling. Like with the real Sylvia, Elin Cullhed’s fictional character has a sharp, rational and critical intellect, which seamlessly unites with her emotional life – an unfathomable vulnerability which constantly sways between the realistic and the imaginary, between hope and despair, between trust and betrayal.”