State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

While reading this book, I kept thinking that it would make a great movie. It has an exotic setting, eccentric characters, a mystery, suspense, some humour, and a death. I hope a director picks it up one day and gets a screen writer onto it immediately.

It wasn’t a mind-blowing novel, but it was a good story that kept me turning the pages. I enjoy Ann Patchett‘s writing and have read a few of her previous books. I loved Bel Canto, and was fascinated by Truth and Beauty, the book in which she describes her friendship with Lucy Grealy, a fellow author whose face was disfigured by a childhood cancer.

I admire Ann Patchett’s imagination in creating ‘State of Wonder’. It is partly set in the in rainforests of the Rio Negro, in Brazil, where an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could allow women to fall pregnant until late in their lives. The company for whom she works sends a lab researcher, Anders Eckman, to go and find her as she has stayed in the jungle for too long and they want her drug. He, however, dies there under mysterious circumstances. Marina Singh, Anders’ colleague, then goes to uncover the truth behind Anders’ death. She leaves the comforts of Missouri for chaos and heat of Brazil and, after a tortuous journey down the Rio Negro, she finds Dr Annick Swenson deep in the jungle, working with the Lakashi tribe, uncovering their secrets of everlasting fertility. Marina is drawn into the community and finds herself not wanting to leave, until her boss (and lover) comes to find her.

Ann Patchett

Those are the bare bones of the story, yet there is far more to the story than this. It turns out that Marina was a former obstetrics’ student of Dr Swenson, who was witness to Marina’s botched surgery that results in a tragedy and in Marina’s leaving obstetrics for the safer field of research.  Thus Marina is forced to face her ghosts, as well as having to deal with a recurring horrific dream brought on by the anti-malarial drugs she is taking. There is an echo of ‘Heart of Darkness‘ in the story, as she goes down the ‘black water’ of the river deep into the jungle.

Patchett has written a big story, but it is the minutiae of detail that make the novel so readable – her descriptions of the Lakashi tribe, the insect life in Brazil, the board room meetings. She has a wry sense of humour that comes through subtly in the writing, and is kind to her characters: each one of them turns out to be likable and inherently good.

It is a book worth reading in my mind and has all the elements that I like in a novel: readability, a good story, well cast characters, an interesting setting and a twist in the tale.

Sunset on the Rio Negro, Brazil
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Author: Nella

Passionate reader, sometime writer, part-time librarian. I couldn't survive without books. And, I suppose, my children. Or my cats. Or my dog. I read books and look after others.

5 thoughts on “State of Wonder by Ann Patchett”

  1. A friend is about to pass this over to me, we are on the same book plane Nella 🙂
    I’m taking time out with Edith Wharton’s ‘Ethan Frome’ for today, the quintessential winter read.

  2. What a coincidence! I haven’t read that Edith Wharton, but we are in the midst of a heat wave here in Cape Town, so maybe I should save it for winter.

  3. Hi Nella–I think “Truth and Beauty” and “Bel Canto” are some of my favorite books, but “State of Wonder” didn’t quite measure up for me. Very readable, like you said, but the ending felt….unresolved? I dunno. Great blog!

  4. I agree with you, Jackie. I don’ think it lived up to her others. Very readable, but the end fizzled out a bit, like she ran out of energy writing it.

    Nella

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