State of Wonder

Monday, April 22, 2013

State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett

There is something hypnotic about this book. Normally the premise wouldn’t appeal to me; a pharmacy company sends one of its doctors into the Brazilian Amazon to check on the research progress of a miracle drug. Nothing in that sounds like something I’d love, but since it was written by Ann Patchett it was an absolute must for me. I haven’t loved all of her books, but I have enjoyed most of them a loved a few. That being said, I dove into this one with some reservations that I soon discovered were completely unfounded.

Dr. Marina Singh finds out that her colleague Anders Eckman has died in Brazil after being sent by their company to find the illusive Dr. Annick Swenson. Singh finds herself in the strange position of being sent to confirm Eckman’s death and finish the job he started. The novel is slow going, its pages sometimes feeling as heavy as the humidity in that tropical culture. Nothing is rushed and yet Patchett draws you in with a heady mixture of curiosity and dread. The writing in so enthralling that it’s almost easy to forget the plot in favor of discovering each new paragraph as its own entity.

The book has aptly been compared to Heart of Darkness, but unlike that novel I cared much more deeply about the characters in this one. The cold and practical Dr. Swenson was one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in a long time. In fact it was my love for some of those relationships that made me struggle with the ending. I didn’t dislike it; it was just hard to process.

I also want to note that everyone was right and the audio version. It’s read by Hope Davis and it was incredible. I’m not sure I would have loved it as much if I’d just read a hardcopy the first time around.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s a beautiful book and I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about these characters for a long time. It’s hard to explain exactly why it’s so powerful, but I will be trusting in Patchett’s storytelling ability as long as she is writing.

p.s. When I was reading this I found out that Patchett will be the speaker for this year’s Marian McFadden Memorial Lecture! I’m so excited I’ll get to hear her speak this month!


Sandy Nawrot said...

Anything that Hope Davis reads is a home run in my opinion, and this one was no exception. She is wonderful and takes every book to another level on audio.

Jeanne said...

The farther away I get from the ending, the more I like it. I like that Marina has become an explorer for the messiness of the truth, rather than someone who waits for it to be brought to her in a tidy little package.

Nikki Steele @ said...

I didn't get to listen to the audio book, but wish I had now. State of Wonder is one of my favorites and, like you said, not a premise I would have originally been drawn to. Patchett is just a magician, surely.

Anonymous said...

Sounds very interesting. I didn't really like 'Heart of Darkness' either but this book sounds like it's worth a read! Would you recommend it for a holiday read?

Amy said...

I agree that this is a very powerful, beautifully written book. Unfortunately, I was really troubled by the ending, and it tainted the rest of the book for me. I definitely like Ann Patchett's style though.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - She was really incredible. We're reading this for my book club and I told all of them to get the audio if they could!

Jeanne - It's really grown on me since finishing it. It was so different from what I was expecting and it was frustrating.

Nikki - She really is. Now you can save the audio for a re-read!

Chris - Yes if you want a big book that let's you escape into another world, but no if you want something upbeat, sentimental or with a happy ending.

Amy - Like Jeanne the ending is actually improving with time for me. I wasn't happy with it either, which is why it got bumped down just slightly to a 4.5 for me, but it was

Sarah said...

This book is on my TBR for this month, but I've been putting it off because like you, the summary just doesn't sound too interesting to me. And I haven't even read Ann Patchett before! But now I feel a little bit more motivated to pick it up, so thanks for the review!

Jenners said...

I'm glad you listened to it on audio -- I thought Hope Davis played a large part in making it feel hypnotic and so involved. The ending was kind of interesting -- not quite what I had imagined or expected. Still not sure if I liked it or not.

Kerry M said...

I felt the same way about the subject matter, but I've heard enough good things about it to warrant picking up a copy recently. Now I'm really looking forward to it - thanks for the review!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sarah - It was sitting on my shelf for a long time. My book club picked it and that's what motivated me to finally get to it. So glad I did!

Jenners - My initial reaction to the ending was strong, but I've mellowed a bit about it.

Kerry M - I hope you like it!

Literary Feline said...

If I ever decide to reread this book, I think I will do so by audio. I have heard such amazing things about that version.

Anonymous said...

I agree - Heart of Darkness didn't grab me like this one did, even though I understand the reason people compare the two.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Literary Feline - It was really excellent on audio. I think I would have struggled with the pacing on a print version.

Carrie - I see the similarities, but State of Wonder has more character depth in my opinion.