Top positive review
5 people found this helpful
on 5 April 2017
Having first read "Commonwealth," and now "State Of Wonder," Ann Patchett is fast becoming one of my very favourite writers. I do plan on reading the rest of her novels someday. She is such a brilliant writer. Her characters are so real, the dialogue flows so naturally, she can express so much feeling in very few words, and her use of flashback is perfectly executed, done in an almost cinematic way. In "Commonwealth," she employs the flashback technique quite extensively. The narrative in "State Of Wonder," is a bit more linear, if that sort of thing is important to you (it isn't to me)! But there are flashback points at just the right moments.
I won't go over the plot synopsis of "State Of Wonder," as that has been said extensively in various other reviews. Needless to say, it's not a million miles away from "Heart Of Darkness," and it touches upon the issue of the ethical dubiousness of exploiting indigenous tribes in the name of medical research. That's an oversimplification, however.
It is more about the personal journey of the main character, Dr. Marina Singh, who is sent on a mission of mercy to uncover the truth behind the mysterious death of her beloved colleague, Dr. Anders Eckman, in the jungles of the Amazon. He had previously been sent there to investigate the elusive Dr. Annick Swenson and her research involving a tribe called the Lakashi whose women mysteriously appear to remain fertile well into their 70's. The drug company they both work for wants to expedite this research of course, as this could be potentially very profitable indeed. Along the way, Marina confronts the major event in her past which put her life on its current trajectory (Dr. Swenson was her nemesis back in medical school), examines the current state of her life (single, childless, 42 years old, in a relationship with the CEO of the company, that is going nowhere), reconciles the various conflicting parts of herself, and makes the most profound connections in the most unexpected ways to the people with whom she is thrown together. Oh, and along the way, she just happens to do battle with an anaconda (and that is not the scariest thing she confronts by any means!). I won't give away anything more save that the ending of this beautiful book is sublime (by contrast, I found the rather abrupt ending in "Commonwealth" a tad disappointing).
It is apparent that a common theme in Ann Patchett's writing is that of coming to terms with a pivotal event in your past that sets the rest of the course of your life in motion. In "Commonwealth," it was a childhood accident with tragic consequences, and in "State Of Wonder," it was a confidence shattering near fatal error made as a junior doctor. The other important theme in her novels appears to be people thrown together in circumstances beyond their control who go on to make the deepest connections and whose lives remain forever intertwined. In the case of "Commonwealth," it is the children of two families thrown together through second marriages of their parents. In the case of "State Of Wonder," it is the "family" of doctors and office colleagues thrown together in the most extreme circumstances. Their connections to one another are embodied physically in the form of an enigmatic young deaf boy called "Easter," (an aptly symbolic name, which becomes apparent towards the end).
"State Of Wonder," mesmerised me and will stay with me for some time to come. I would say this is a great introduction to Ann Patchett if you are unfamiliar with her work. But, I would also recommend "Commonwealth," and look forward to reading her other books.