State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Once more I’m behind with reviews of some of the books I’ve read in June, July and August, so this is the first of several short posts as I try to catch up with writing reviews.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved State of Wonder by Ann Patchett!

After a slow start I began to realise that this was a book I was really going to enjoy. In some ways it is similar to Heart of Darkness by Graham Greene, but set in the Brazilian jungle along the Rio Negro instead of the Belgian Congo in Africa. It slots into the River box in the Wanderlust Bingo card. It is also one of my TBRs, a book I’ve owned since 2015 and so qualifies for the Mount TBR Challenge.

Dr. Annick Swenson, a research scientist, is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women forever. But she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a lab researcher, is sent to investigate. When Dr. Swenson reported that Anders had died of a fever in a remote part of the jungle, Dr. Marina Singh, a former student of Dr. Swenson, is sent to find out what has happened to him.

From that point onwards it gets more and more complicated. First of all it’s very difficult for her to meet Dr. Swenson, and when she does eventually reach her there are all the dangers of the rain forest to deal with, including deadly snakes, hundreds of insects, mysterious natives and exotic diseases plus the intense heat. There are also secrets and lies that are only gradually revealed.

The novel raises questions about the morality and ethics of research into the use of extreme fertility treatments and drug studies in general, along with the exploitation of native populations. It is wonderfully descriptive and I could easily imagine that I was there in the jungle, experiencing the oppressive heat and humidity. I found it all fascinating and I was totally absorbed in the story.

First Chapter, First Paragraph: State of Wonder

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

This week I’m looking at State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, one of my TBR books on my Kindle and thinking of reading it next.

State of Wonder

It begins:

The news of Anders Eckman’s death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served both as the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope. Who even knew they still made such things? The single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world. Mr Fox had the letter in his hand when he came to the lab to tell Marina the news. When she saw him there at the door she smiled at him and in the light of that smile he faltered.

“What?” she said finally.

He opened his mouth and then closed it. When he tried again all he could say was, “It’s snowing.”

Blurb:

Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever. Dr Annick Swenson’s work is shrouded in mystery; she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate.
A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns.

Now Marina Singh, Anders’ colleague and once a student of the mighty Dr Swenson, is their last hope. Compelled by the pleas of Anders’s wife, who refuses to accept that her husband is not coming home, Marina leaves the snowy plains of Minnesota and retraces her friend’s steps into the heart of the South American darkness, determined to track down Dr. Swenson and uncover the secrets being jealously guarded among the remotest tribes of the rainforest.

What Marina does not yet know is that, in this ancient corner of the jungle, where the muddy waters and susurrating grasses hide countless unknown perils and temptations, she will face challenges beyond her wildest imagination.

Marina is no longer the student, but only time will tell if she has learnt enough.

I can see why I bought this book – but why haven’t I read it yet? It looks so good. What do you think – would you keep reading?