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.