Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: State of Wonder

State of Wonder
Ann Patchett
353 pages
An advance reader's edition of this novel was provided to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours

For me, the fortunes of a book rise and fall with character. Character driven fiction is my literary ideal: if richly textured themes, convincing details, and beautiful writing are included, then I'm in book heaven.

State of Wonder kept me suspended in book heaven for two days, after which I mourned. I just wanted to savor the book for a few days, and didn't pick up another book until I'd had some time to process State of Wonder.

Ann Patchett's latest novel might just be as good as the impeccable Bel Canto. Marina Singh is a brilliantly written character (why do I want to compare her to my favorite literary female hero, Dorothea Brooke?). Marina is one reason why I could not put this book down: she is intelligent, cool, insecure, loyal, and strangely innocent. Her journey leads her from icy Minnesota, where she is a pharmeceutical researcher, to the Amazon forest, where she means her former medical school teacher, a woman who inspires a dreadful awe and respect.

Marina is sent to the Amazon by her boss, who is also her lover--the aptly named Mr. Fox. The ostensible reason for Marina's journey is to find out just what happened to her colleague and friend Anders Eckman, who has reportedly died. But Marina's journey into the heart of the jungle becomes a search for so much more. Marina faces her own past, and her reason for giving up a career as an obstetrician for the research lab; her fear of Dr. Annick Swenson, the doctor who was once her teacher and is now working in obsessively Kurtz-like fashion, on pharmeceutical research in the jungle; the powerful and fearsome forces of life and death.

The most vivid writing in State of Wonder is in the portion of the book set in the jungle. Marina spends time in the purgatory of Manaus, trying to locate Dr.Swenson, who doesn't want to be found. The Bovenders, a pair of global wanderers, give color to the Manaus scenes, and there is a gorgeous scene set at the opera in Manaus, where the elusive Dr. Swenson finally appears. Accompanying Dr. Swenson is a child named Easter, who will lead Marina further into the jungle than anyone else. Once Marina leaves Manaus, she and the reader enter into a state of wonder that continues until the end of the book. Marina encounters a village of mothers, wondrous plants and creatures, a gargantuan anaconda, and a tribe of cannibals. The sense of having left the "civilized world" and its morality behind is powerful. Patchett takes the reader on a journey down a river, snaking its way deeper and deeper into the heart of what it means to be human: what is love, what does it mean to give birth, what will we do out of loyalty or friendship? Each time the reader moves deeper into the book, the jungle closes behind her leaving the reader enclosed in a state of wonder. Highly recommended.


Greg Zimmerman said...

Man, everyone's raving about this book! I've never read Patchett, but I think I might have to. Very nice review - yes, character-driven novels, especially one as tightly focused on a single, rich character as this one seems to be, are fantastic! I'm sure this isn't an original thought, but there's definitely some Heart of Darkness (which I love) to this. Very intrigued. Thanks for a great review!

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of Bel Canto, and could hardly wait to start this one. But I'm about 50 pages in and while I'm enjoying it, I'm thrown off a little by the Minnesota parts of the book. I actually live in Eden Prairie, the suburb that the dead doctor lived in, and Patchett didn't get the "lingo" right at all, plus she botched the name of our international airport, which should have been an easy fact check, since it has a nice shiny website. I'm puzzled by that lack of detail on her part.

Rummanah Aasi said...

I also haven't heard anything but good things about this book. I actually have Bel Canto on my bookcase but I haven't ventured into reading it. Now, I feel like I'm missing out! I have to correct that soon.

Like you, I also like a character driven novel too. A character with many shades of grey is also a favorite to explore, critique, and discuss.

nomadreader said...

I loved this one too! It was my first Patchett, but I'm really looking forward to devouring her backlist.

JoAnn said...

"suspended in book heaven" - I love it!

I've enjoyed all of Patchett's books and hope to get to this before too long. Great review.

Judith said...

Oh! I'm so glad you liked State of Wonder because the package from Amazon has just arrived.

I have never read Bel Canto and feel I must. Ken adored it and was inconsolable when he turned the last page.


Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

BookQuoter said...

I mourned too, in anguish as to why I couldn't love it as much as almost everybody did (especially since Bel Canto is one of my top books). Maybe I am expecting too much? Am not really sure. I did love that opera scene and, I agree, the jungle scenes were awesome. Thanks for the review.

Lisa said...

"Might be as good as the impeccable Bel Canto?" Holy smokes, I wanted to read this one already but if it really lives up to Bel Canto, I am moving this one to the top of the list. It does sound wonderful!

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read this one myself. I've been meaning to get to BEL CANTO for years but this one sounds even better to me due to the setting.

Thanks for being on the tour!

TheBookGirl said...

I have this book on my TBR pile, and the more reviews I read, the more I want to get to it soon. Marina sounds like a wonderful character, and the lush, evocative setting of the jungle makes this seem like the kind of book I could get lost in the for the afternoon :)

Frances said...

This book is everywhere! I have a copy ready to go but am waiting for the brouhaha to die down just a little. :)

Betty said...

My fav Ann Patchett book (not that I have read the collected works) was her bio of her friend Lucy Grealy, "Truth and Beauty". Your review more than convinced me to read her latest. Alas, I am no. 70 on the library waiting list.