Monday, 29 April 2013

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett - A Review

Writing this review is frustrating only because my internet connection is cactus because I have exceeded my 8 gb limit for the month.  Our service provider, Telstra has no infrastructure in our neighbourhood so we must rely solely on this one wi fi modem connection we are allowed. No broadband and the fancy new high speed national broadband network, a political football between our current government and most likely our next government, the opposition, quit installation 1.5 kms down the road…. never mind, onto this interesting book.

I have not read an Ann Patchett book before. It was chosen by Ali, our reading group leader at Fuller's book shop where I attend the monthly meetings.  The best thing about being in a book group is it encourages me to read books I normally wouldn't choose for myself.   Some I enjoy, others I don't.  I have never been a fan of the "moral dilemma of the week" type of book.  I read 2 books by Jodi Piccoult a couple of years back, also for book clubs, and I found I really didn't like it. So formulaic. Pick out the big cause whether it be organ donation, mass shootings in America, abortion, create a story that cocoons the issue, try to present both sides and then come up with an ending that won't scare off 50% of the readers.

Fortunately I had no idea what State of Wonder is about. I  probably would have dug my heels in if I had. However, keeping an open mind is always useful, all those cliches about parachutes etc….made me continue once I realised what was going on.

Marina a young pharmaceutical researcher from Minnesota is sent by her married boss/lover to the Amazon rain forest in Brazil to find out what happened to the previous researcher once they receive a message he has died.  He was working with the old stalwart researcher lecturer professor, Dr. Swenson, in the rainforest who isn't very forthcoming about the research she is undertaking. As the drug company, Vogel is funding this research they want to know what the status of it is.  

Marina is sent to Manaus in Brazil to await Dr. Swenson's sporadic appearance in the city when she comes in for supplies or to attend the local opera as is the case. 

She spends time exploring the city, contemplating her relationship with Mr. Fox , who is her employer and married lover and doesn't really find a great deal of satisfaction in any of these activities.  She also must spend time with the young Bohemian couple who protect Dr Swenson's interruptions to her work. Once Dr. Swenson arrives the story really begins. 

I won't say anything more except to say she goes into the jungle with Dr. Swenson who it turns out is studying the reproductive habits of the Lakashi people. It seems that the Lakashi women are able to conceive children throughout their entire life. It is not unusual for the 70 year old plus grandmothers to give birth to children their grandchildren will raise.  The implications of finding the ' golden key'  to such a feat of fertility are enormous especially monetarily to the drug companies.  

Now I have a confession to make.  I often write my review, thoughts and feelings of a book about 80% of the way through the book.  As I don't want to spoil the ending in any way I figure if I write it up before I finish it there is no chance of making a slip up.  Also whether I like the ending or not is irrelevant to my reporting of it because I'd hate to say the book ended badly and put readers off or I'd hate to say the ending was great and have people think, " What is the matter with her?!"  

I can say I am really enjoying Ann Patchett's writing.  I can feel the heat and the humidity of the Amazon. I almost went and got a towel during one of the rain storms. The people are clear in my mind and the issues are very interesting.  There are also a couple of absolute ripper surprises (at least I was really surprised a couple of times.) There is suspense when " jungle " things happen.  One of the things I really like is she writes about the insects, the birds, the smaller creatures of the jungle.  You feel the swarms of insects around your head, enjoy the beauty of the river birds and the book  is not all jaguars or other large animals flying out of bushes at the reader.  Well most of the time.  So I won't say another word about that. There are also other very interesting minor characters who have issues they need to work around. Does one take a small deaf child out of the familiar jungle to raise in the USA? Does one have an affair with the available people nearby because their partners are several thousand miles away? 

I would encourage anyone who likes a good adventure yarn with some brain stopping moral values to pick this book up.  I can see why it was chosen as a book group read.  I think the discussion could get quite heated especially if we have any really conservative people in the group turn up. Might be fun to stir the pot a bit.  

If anyone who reads this has read this book I would love to know what you thought of it.  

p.s.  Alex if you read this post you'll laugh to know Marina's choice of reading material for the plane trip to South America was no other than the Wings of the Dove. Of course her luggage was lost and she never does get to read it. I thought of you when I read that. 


  1. In general I love Ann Patchett's writing. I think she has a very easy way of drawing her reader in. I have read all of her novels and have never really been disappointed by any of them.

    1. Thanks Thomas for that. I found her writing very good. We discuss this book at our book group tomorrow night and I'm looking forward to it. I'd certainly not hesitate to pick up her other offerings. She is a very good writer. Thanks for that...oooops I've already said that!


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