State Of Wonder
- Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Publication Date:
- 26 April 2012
- Modern & Contemporary
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In State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (this is the first of her novels I’ve read) Maria Singh works for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota and the last place she wants to go is Brazil, in particular the tributary of the Amazon where her good friend and colleague Anders Eckman has just met his death. But Maria is under a double obligation – to Anders’ wife and three sons, to whom she has to relay the scant news of what happened to him, and to her boss who is responsible for sending Anders to the research outpost in the jungle to investigate why work there has stalled. It’s already an intriguing premise, and by the time Marina is on her way a few more layers of interest have been added. Her boss Jim Fox is also her clandestine lover, and the woman she is to locate and interrogate is her former teacher and mentor Dr. Swenson, a woman both admired and feared by all her students and under whose tutelage Marina made a horrific medical blunder from which her professional self-esteem has never recovered. I loved this book so much it’s hard to dissect it and work out what makes it so good, except that I instantly felt ‘in the skin’ of the main character, who presents a calm and purposeful exterior to colleagues but reveals to the reader the sources of her frequent nightmares. These nightmares are heightened by taking an anti-malarial drug that forces her to choose between the physical protection it offers and her sanity. I particularly liked the episode on her flight to Manaus where memories jostle with waking nightmares and the mundane irritations of air travel, revealing the mish-mash of fear and confusion in which she is trapped. In Manaus she immediately falls victim to a fever which nearly kills her, but with her lover urging her on (from the safety of his office in Minnesota) she continues her journey to her personal heart of darkness. The fact that her luggage is repeatedly lost or stolen means that she has to face her demons without even a toothbrush to connect her to civilisation. The descriptions of the jungle and its discomforts are as vivid as anything in Poisonwood Bible, but seen entirely through the eyes of a woman who is terrified of being where she is and increasingly angry with those who have put her there. Marina’s journey does eventually take her beyond fear and beyond anger to self-discovery and self-belief. But it’s her initial vulnerability and the author’s ability to put us insideMarina’s head that got this reader hooked. For all I know the science in the book may be as far-fetched as one reviewer argues, but for me there wasn’t the slightest shadow of disbelief, and I was only sorry that a great read came to an end in a tidy 300 or so pages, when for me the story had a real epic quality.
Wow, another amazing story by Ann Patchett. She has such a way with words and story; great on audio.<br/>
Ann Patchett's gift as a writer is her ability to make unsympathetic characters sympathetic, to make implausible situations wholly authentic, and to wrap a reader up fully in the world she chooses to create. Every one of her novels has honed her craft, and <b>State of Wonder</b> deserves every bit of praise that has already been heaped on it.<br/><br/>I found myself thinking over and over, as I read this one, that I wasn't sure <i>why</i> I was finding it so compelling. There was nothing about the outline that interested me terribly, and frankly, for at least half of the book I wasn't sure we were <i>getting</i> anywhere.<br/><br/>Maybe it's the best praise I can give that, generally speaking, when a book has me thinking that way I don't give a second thought to putting it aside for something else that will grab me. It is testament to Ms. Patchett's indefinable skill as a writer and as a storyteller, I kept going back for more even when I wasn't sure why.<br/><br/>What a joy to read yet another novel this year for which I can give my heartiest recommendation.
The words that come to mind when I am reading or describing Ann Patchett’s books all seem to have to do with either art or music. Tapestries of words, action building to a crescendo, phrases that are haunting melodies….“Bel Canto” is one of my all-time favorite books, and I love her other works, although “Run” didn’t strike me in the same way. As I started “State of Wonder”, I was anxious to see what sort of a chord this story struck in me. (See?)“The quiet that was left without her was layered, subtle: at first Marina heard it only as silence, the absence of human voices, but once her ear had settled into it the other sounds began to rise, the deeply forested chirping, the caw that came from the tops of the trees, the chattering of lower primates, the incessant sawing of insect life. It was not unlike the overture of the opera in which the well-trained listener could draw forth the piccolos, the soft French horn, a single meaningful viola.” “State of Wonder” was a moving, emotional, heart wrenching and awe inspiring story. I think I even turned the pages more slowly as I tried to absorb the words and the images of the Amazon jungle that Patchett brings forth in this wonderful novel.“In a matter of minutes the nameless river narrowed and the green dropped behind them like a curtain and the Negro was lost. Marina had thought that the important line that was crossed was between the dock and the boat, the land and the water. She had thought the water was the line where civilization fell away. But as they glided between the two thick walls of breathing vegetation she realized she was in another world entirely, and that she would see civilization drop away again and again before they reached their final destination.”(Negro = the river. I have to clarify otherwise the quote seems off-putting.)To me, this book was about choices people make in life, and the consequences that may take years to become clear. It’s about looking at life in a way utterly foreign to that which we are used to. It’s about clear paths taking unimaginable turns…and about the saving of others while redeeming oneself. The main character, Marina, faces a crossroads in her life…one she was unaware that she was headed towards…and the events that follow change everything. Her life and the lives so many others change completely because of the choices she makes.So many ideas, so many brilliant views of a world so few of us will see…all of this told in a delicate, melodious style…that sometimes surprises the reader with its ferocity.“They banged their legs against the coffee table as they tried to move through the house without turning on the lights. They pressed against a wall in the dark hallway. They fell into her room, into her bed, and stayed there until they had exhausted themselves with every act of love and anger and apology and forgiveness they could think of that might stand in for what they did not have the words to say.”I realize this is already a very long review, without having said much about the plot of the book. Yet days after having read it, new aspects of the journey(ies) that are at the heart of “State of Wonder” come to me. I am not sure if I can even say exactly what happened or what will happen after the finish of this story.I do know that I was able to see and hear and experience a place I will most likely never go in my life…and that I feel I have learned a great deal not only from the characters that took me there, and the characters that remain there…but from the person I am after having made the trip. Therein lies the ultimate power of art or music…the transformation not only of the medium, but of the artist and of the patron.
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