Monday, December 12, 2011

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett — 368 pgs

When Dr. Marina Singh gets the news that her friend and colleague, Anders Eckman, has died in the Amazon jungle, having gone to search for a reclusive scientist who may be working on one of the most startling drugs ever discovered, she finds herself hungry for answers to his death. Making a promise to Anders’ wife, Marina agrees to go into the jungle to discover the fate of her friend and to seek out Dr. Annick Swenson, a groundbreaking scientist who has been off the map for several years. But when Marina arrives in the tropical locale, she discovers that there’s much more to the story than meets the eye. For starters, before she even gains access to the jungle, Marina must gain the trust of a couple whom Dr. Swenson has put in place to run interference for her. When she finally locates Dr. Swenson, she begins to learn the strange truth about her research and, more importantly, Anders death, and uncovers the secret of the tribe that Dr. Swenson has been studying. Part medical drama, part adventure story, State of Wonder tells the unfathomable story of one woman’s descent into a world where time stands still and where the mysteries of the jungle are being harnessed in ways that are so flamboyantly contrary to nature that they will leave readers awestruck and incredulous.

While my relationship with Patchett has been hit or miss, with me loving some books and abandoning others, it didn’t take long for me to become interested in reading this one after all the rave reviews had come out. I love stories of survival and of exotic places, and just reading about the excitement that other reviewers felt for this book had me rushing out to get my own copy as soon as it was released. I let it linger for awhile, but it always stuck in the back of my mind as a book that I knew I was going to love and devour once I could make time for it. And I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed. I read this one over a busy weekend and carted it along with me to every outing, snatching bits of reading time here and there until I reached the final page. I exhausted my husband with the entire plot synopsis, and though his eyes glazed over, I just know he was fascinated. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

I was deliberately brief with my plot synopsis, as I think the less you know about this book going in, the better. What I will say is that although some of the plot points do stretch credulity, there was something about Patchett’s writing style and skill in relating her story that made even the most bizarre aspects of this tale seem believable. What it all boils down to is that there is a scientist in the jungle who is creating a drug that does some incredible things. Things that it may not be 100% right to be able to accomplish. This scientist has her own reasons for wanting to hide away and escape from her sponsors and benefactors, and she’s very good at it. In the name of science, lines are crossed and people are sacrificed. But what really stands out is the way that Patchett creates a fully realized atmosphere and setting. There were times I got hot and sticky just reading about the jungle where this all took place, and there were pulse-pounding moments of intelligent and pitch perfect intrigue and action, all revolving around the natives of the jungle, human and animal alike.

This is also a story of humans; their fallibility, their selfishness that is masked by altruism, and their utter belief that they can triumph over nature, when nature shows them otherwise several times a day. The characters were expertly created and they elicited so many varying emotions from me, from coldness and disbelief to a warm compassion and understanding that left me feeling almost vulnerable at times. I really liked that the characters were so rich and varied, and that even those with ulterior motives had their share of softer emotions. I even grew to like the disagreeable Dr. Swenson, when I thought that would never be possible. When push comes to shove, each of these characters believes that they are doing the right thing, despite clear indications to the contrary.

I was a little baffled by the end of the book because I felt that there was something that was hinted at that was not stated explicitly. Most of the time, ambiguous endings don’t bother me, but in this case, I was pondering and pondering once I had turned the last page. If anyone else has read this and would be interested in discussing it with me, let me know! Aside from that very small niggle, I thought the book was excellent and it kept me reading with anticipation and glee as the weird got weirder and the revelations and adventure came fast and furious. I think this is Patchett’s best book to date, and it’s certainly my favorite so far.

If you haven’t read this one yet and are in the mood for a tale that will grab hold of you and won’t put you down until that final page, this is the book you want to read. It tells a story that’s not only unique, but thrilling, and Patchett is at the top of her game in its construction and execution. This is one book that will go on my favorites list this year, and I’m so glad that I found the time for it. A very exciting and winning read. Highly recommended!

34 comments:

Kathy said...

Heather, I am glad you found time to read this one. I also enjoyed it. Your review brought out a few things that I hadn't consciously thought of when I read it. Great review as always.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'll be happy to talk about the ending! nbmars AT yahoo DOT com. In the meanwhile, I'm off to eat some bark for breakfast...

JaneGS said...

Okay, I'm officially intrigued. This book has been recommended to me of late, and I didn't know anything about it before reading your review.

It sounds like a rewrite of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Is that what Patchett set out to do? Anyway, sounds like I would like it, after all I'm a big fan of ambiguity :)

Harvee said...

this is way up there on my wish list. Thanks for a great review. By the way, I'm a fan of the Heart of Darkness. Can't wait to see the ending of the book that you wondered about.

TheBookGirl said...

Oh yeah! This is one of my top 5 of the year :)

Wall-to-wall books said...

Ahhh good review!
I know a lot of people who are reading this book!
I might have to add it to my list.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I have this loaded on my iPod, as it was mentioned on several "best of" lists for audio. I always things of Apocalypse Now when I hear the plot. I haven't read anything else by this author, but Bel Canto has been on my list FOREVER.

Jenny said...

Wow, sounds fantastic! I haven't read many reviews for this and for some reason wouldn't have thought it was so adventuresome!

Aarti said...

I have been reading so much about this book recently! I don't remember Heart of Darkness well enough to compare, but it seems to get favorable comparisons to that one. I should reread Heart of Darkness- I don't think I understood it AT ALL when I read it in high school.

I am glad this Patchett book worked for you more than some others, even if the ending was a bit odd.

Tracy said...

This one does sound good - I'll keep an eye out for it for next year.

Audra said...

I've not read any Patchett yet (shamefully!) but I confess, I turned my nose up at this one because it sounds like the plot of Medicine Man ('90s film with Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco) - but clearly I should give it a chance. I'm quite curious about the ending!

Wendy said...

Glad to see you liked this one, Heather. I enjoyed the book, too - although I really disliked the ending (had it not been for the ending, I would have REALLY loved it!)

Anita said...

I've seen a lot of chatter about this one, and may pick up at some point.
I truly love your reviews.

Andi said...

I'm seriously considering purchasing this one with a BArnes and Noble gift card I received recently. It just looks so involving! And like you, I've had hit and miss luck with Patchett's work.

Ti said...

I was really off the mark with this book. I thought it was about something else entirely and couldn't understand why everyone was raving about it.

Literary Feline said...

This does sound good, Heather. I haven't yet read anything by Ann Patchett although I have a couple of her books in my TBR collection I've been meaning to get to.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

Heather, I'm so glad to hear you loved this one! Bel Canto is one of my absolute favorite novels, so I definitely need to read this soon. Thanks for such a glowing and wonderfully written review. :)

Jenny said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this! I didn't expect to, because I actually don't tend to enjoy books about travel to exotic places. It sounds so stressful! But Ann Patchett's writing grabbed me, to my surprise!

Marg said...

I have listened to Ann Patchett talk about this book a lot this year, both in podcasts and at a festival event. The idea of it intrigues me, but I haven't actually read it yet!

Glad you enjoyed it!

Aths said...

That ending was such a disappointment for me - I loved the book a lot otherwise. I felt as if Marina acted very out of character, it didn't make any sense. But I agree with you - the writing is so beautiful, you just get lost in the words. Wonderful review!!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I loved this one as well, and was unprepared for what happened at the end.

Amy said...

Hmmm... sounds rather interesting. I may just have to cave and try this one :)

Suko said...

Excellent review, Zibilee. I have not read anything by Ann Patchett yet, and I know now that I must!

Amy said...

oooh I definitely need to get to this one. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

Kaye said...

"the weird got weirder" . . now that's got me intrigued for sure, Heather! Wonderful review.

Beth F said...

Argh. I know I need to read this. I think I need about 16 more days each month.

reviewsbylola said...

The only Patchett book I have read is Patron Saint of Liars, which was not that impressive. However, I think it pales in comparison to her other books, so I really should read this or Bel Canto or something!

Paulita said...

I agree with you and a lot of the commenters. Really enjoyed the book, a little frustrated by the ending. It's definitely worth a read to anyone considering it. Here's My Blog

Jenners said...

I tend to run hot and cold with Patchett (actually, more cold than hot) but this one sounded like it was more promising. As for ambiguous endings … they can work for me if done well but not if I feel it is a cop out!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I'm glad this one didn't disappoint; I've been hit or miss with Patchett too (nothing stands up as well as BEL CANTO, in my opinion!), and haven't yet picked up STATE OF WONDER.

I have laugh because I was thinking that Rhapsody (not Fizzy Jill? Other Jill? Not Other Jill?) would be a great person to discuss this with - she and I have had a few Facebook/email convos about books ... then I saw her comment :)

Thanks for so highly recommending this one, Heather; I'll put it as a definite on my wish list.

softdrink said...

Well, after that whole Fizzy Jill/Not Other Jill dliemna, it seems fitting that I follow Dawn's reply. :-)

I've been undecided about whether or not to read this...Bel Canto scared me, although I did like Run. I think I'm waiting for the paperback before I commit.

Darlene said...

I picked this one up a while ago because so many people had raved about it. I've had a hit and miss with Patchett too but I'm anxious to read this one.

nomadreader said...

I'm glad to see you loved this one too! It was my first Patchett, and I'm eager to get to a few more in the new year (or perhaps I'll get to Bel Canto before the end of this one). I've heard some quibble with the ending, which I get, but for me, it was perfect.

Iris on Books said...

"there was something about Patchett’s writing style and skill in relating her story that made even the most bizarre aspects of this tale seem believable."

Exactly :)

As for the ending. I agree that there was something ambiguous there and for me it was about Marina's life. I keep thinking what she ended up doing..

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