State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 978-0062049810
Trade paperback, $15.99
Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto made such an impression on me, I couldn't wait to read her latest novel, State of Wonder, out in paperback on May 8th.
Dr. Marina Singh is a researcher at a pharmaceutical company sent by her employer to the Amazon jungle after they receive a letter stating that their colleague has died there. He was sent to find out why Dr. Annick Swenson, another researcher, has stopped communication with her employer.
Dr. Swenson was Dr. Singh's mentor, and an incident in their past has caused Singh great concern about their meeting again. Swenson was sent to the Amazon to work on a drug that would allow women to remain fertile well into their later years. If it was true, this would make IVF treatments obsolete and the pharmaceutical company would make billions of dollars.
Reading this novel drops you right into the Amazonian jungle. You can almost feel the sweltering heat and you may find yourself swatting furiously at insects you imagine to be biting you. Just like in Bel Canto, the setting of the novel is conjured up full-blown in the reader's mind.
The characters are brilliantly realized, and I found myself wondering who could play 73-year-old Dr. Swenson in the movie version. (I heard Cherry Jones' voice in my head speaking Swenson's lines, but alas she is too young for the role.) Singh and Swenson don't meet up until nearly halfway through the novel, and their fascinating relationship drives the last half of the book.
Some people have called this a female version of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but it reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible in the way that it handles the relationship between the American doctors and the native inhabitants, and the ethical questions raised. The Americans' presence in the jungle changes the environment, as much as Dr. Swenson would like to think she has adapted to the jungle.
The story has so many twist and turns, it is the kind of book you literally can feel your heart pounding during the exciting parts. It is a book you are torn about; you want to race through it to see how it ends, yet you want to savor the exquisite writing and story.
Simply put, if you like a brilliant story set in an exotic local, inhabited by complicated characters and written by a masterful storyteller, read State of Wonder.
rating 5 of 5