Book Review: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

This is my first book by Ann Patchett. I’ve of course heard about her famous Bel Canto so I thought it was time I try her when I got the chance to review this ARC from Harper.

The cover looks a bit more boring (serious) than it really is.

State of Wonder: What it is about

The book is told from the perspective of Marina Singh. She now works for a pharmaceutical company, but she was a gynaecology student before. When she made a mistake that she herself found unforgivable, she stopped her studies and chose a different career instead.

The book starts when a message reaches the company that Marina’s closest colleague, Anders Eckman, has died in the jungle of Brazil, where he was trying to get an update on the research of another colleague, Dr Swenson, who has been there for many years.

Eckman’s wife Karen, as well as Marina’s boss and lover, Dr. Fox, ask her to go out to Brazil to find out what happened. Marina accepts with some trepidation and sets out to find Dr. Swenson.

Dr. Swenson is an old teacher of hers, by great coincidence, and was present when Marina made her career-changing mistake. They haven’t seen each other since, and she doesn’t recognise Marina. She is not keen to have her around. Until the moment that she doesn’t want her to leave again.

The book deals with human relationships: how people need other people even when they don’t think they do, but how they can do without most of their possessions. And how teachers do not remember their students, even when they made a big impact on the student’s life.

State of Wonder: What I thought

In a way, this is an adventure book but on the other hand, there aren’t quite enough plot twists to call it that.

I really liked Marina and thought she was brave going to Brazil on her own. In the jungle there are many unknown dangers and at first, Marina is worried about taking even a single step. Later, she’s a near-native and her stay with the research group in the jungle is very different from what she expected.

She finds out the reason that Dr. Swenson has spent so long in the jungle and why she hasn’t been willing to share her findings with the company. Eventually, she’s a bit stuck in the jungle, with no way to get back home. Towards the very end of the book a number of things happen that bring this book to a convenient ending. I found that a bit far-fetched (but not enough to spoil my reading pleasure). I also didn’t see why Marina wasn’t a bit more worried about getting home.

The book was very enjoyable and well-written. I think this author is comparable to Jane Smiley or Barbara Kingsolver. Definitely a good read.

Rating: 4/5 stars

I got this book: free from Harper publishers (ARC)

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 353

First published: 2011 (June)

Genre: literary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

25 Responses to Book Review: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

  1. i just got my review copy in the mail yesterday and am really looking forward to it. it’s my first Patchett book, too, although i do own Bel Canto (and will get around to it one of these days).

  2. sakura says:

    I loved Bel Canto, The Magician’s Assistant and especially The Patron Saint of Liars and am a huge fan of Ann Patchett. Although it’s been a few years since I’ve read her work, there’s a sense of stillness and a searching of the self in her books that I remember really liking. So glad you liked this and am really looking forward to reading it.

  3. Cindy says:

    It sounds good. I have finished your book and will get around to writing to you about it sometime soon.

  4. Thanks for this. I’ve got Bel Canto on my list of books by women to read for this year – I’ve also not read any of hers before. Looking forward to getting stuck in.

  5. I like the sound of this book. I haven’t read any of her books before (not sure why as I think I would enjoy them). Glad you liked it 🙂

  6. JoV says:

    Ever since Bel Canto I avoided Ann Pratchett like a plague. I’m wondering if there comes a time I would read anything by her again. 😦

    • Leeswammes says:

      I can’t tell you, Jo, as I haven’t read *Bel Canto*. But I found this book quite a straightforward read, nothing that I would think puts people off. But still…

  7. Any author comparable to Barbara Kingsolver is one I have to check out. Thanks for the review 🙂

  8. Emily says:

    NIce review, and thanks for stopping by my blog to see about Patchett’s unfortunate habits! ; )

  9. Leslie says:

    I’m planning on listening to this in audiobook as soon as my copy arrives. It will be my first Patchett book also. If it’s comparable to Kingsolver I’ll probably like it.

  10. JoAnn says:

    So glad you liked it! Hope I can get to it this summer. I’ve read all of Patchett’s novels. The Magician’s Assistant and The Patron Saint of Liars are my favorites, but I didn’t think much of Bel Canto.

    • Leeswammes says:

      I will now try other books by Ann Patchett, JoAnn. Funny you didn’t like *Bel Canto* much. That seems to be her most famous novel. Oh well, we’re all different!

  11. I definitely need to read more Patchett. I have only read The Patron Saint of Liars, which was one of her first books and I doubt that it showcases her talent. I want to read both this and Bel Canto.

  12. RFW says:

    I liked Bel Canto and Run – looking forward to this one. Patchett is on my list of read everything they write authors.

  13. tanabata says:

    I quite enjoyed Bel Canto but haven’t read anything else by her.. yet. I just got an ARC of this one too and am looking forward to reading it soon.

  14. Still here, still reading, but having a busy and difficult time at the moment so no competition entries or comments here recently! This review caught my eye sounds interesting.

  15. Lisa says:

    I have liked everything I’ve read by Patchett (loved, in fact, Bel Canto) so I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. Glad to hear that it is good.

  16. I heard Ann Patchett talking about this on the Guardian Books podcast and I have to admit she put me off a little. She really tried to push all of her highbrow literary influences and completely snubbed the idea that this book has a science fiction element, though she was happy for it to be called horror or thriller or women’s fiction. I know I shouldn’t conflate the book with its author, but I really don’t like snobbery!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Kate, I’ve never heard her speak, but that doesn’t sound very nice. The SF element is very light, you’d hardly know (I had to think about it when you mentioned it, couldn’t remember what was SF about it).

      Horror, thriller, women’s fiction? I’d call it contemporary fiction or literary fiction. I don’t think it’s women’s fiction (whatever that is exactly).

      Don’t confuse the author and the book! It’s a good book.

  17. Pingback: Orange Reading: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett | Iris on Books

  18. Pingback: Read: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett | Leeswammes' Blog

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