Book Review: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
June 11, 2011 25 Comments
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