Anne Patchett, HarperCollins Publishers, 2011, 353 pages.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Ann Patchett has
dazzled readers with her award-winning books, including "The Magician's
Assistant" and the "New York Times" bestselling "Bel Canto." Now she
raises the bar with "State of Wonder," a provocative and ambitious novel
set deep in the Amazon jungle.
Dr. Marina Singh, a research
scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to
track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all
but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an
extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost
the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina's assignment is easy: not
only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was
sent to find her, Marina's research partner Anders Eckman, died before
he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on
an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her
former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about
her friend's death, the state of her company's future, and her own past.
Once found, Dr. Swenson, now in her seventies, is as ruthless
and uncompromising as she ever was back in the days of Grand Rounds at
Johns Hopkins. With a combination of science and subterfuge, she
dominates her research team and the natives she is studying with the
force of an imperial ruler. But while she is as threatening as anything
the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are the ones
Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina, who
finds she may still be unable to live up to her teacher's expectations.
In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, and a
neighboring tribe of cannibals, "State of Wonder" is a world unto
itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a
tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then
shows us what lies on the other side.
I found this to be a funny book to read and now to review. Ultimately, there is some beautiful writing - rich language, thoughtful prose, amazing description and interesting character development. Having said that, the book did not really grab me.
I found that Marina, the main character, though intricately presented, did nothing for me. The book largely took place in her head and thoughts. Unfortunately, it was the same for many of the characters. There was an air of gloom over the whole book which contrasted starkly with the title.
I did like some of the philosophical queries that came about in the book, for example, how far science should go just because it can, the ethics of going into the jungle and disrupting the lives of the natives, and even how to do research in such circumstances. These explorations were taken to the extreme and were often horrifying or uncomfortable.
So, while it would be difficult to fault Patchett's writing, this was just not the book for me. I know others have raved about it and, though I can see the book's merits, it wasn't the book for me.