Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist, Dr Annick Swenson is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever: the ability to beat your dreaded biological clock and choose to have babies at any age. Dr Annick Swenson’s work is shrouded in mystery and she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, Vogel enterprise. Barbara and Jackie Bovender are the gatekeepers at a town called Manaus, to keep Vogel’s employees from gaining access to Dr. Swenson. Anders Eckman, a mild mannered lab researcher with three sons, is sent to the Amazon to investigate what Dr. Swenson is up to. A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns.
Mr Fox, the CEO of Vogel, whose patience is fast running out decided to send his mistress Marina Singh, Ander’s colleague and once a student of the strict Dr. Swenson to find out about Ander’s death. Marina is their last hope. Compelled by the pleas of Ander’s wife, Karen, who refuses to accept that her husband is not coming home, Marina leaves the snowy pains of Minnesota and retraces her friend’s steps into the heart of the South American darkness. Marina, with her own childhood haunt and marriage failure, is determined to track down Dr Swenson and uncover the truth about Eckman’s death. Soon, Marina experienced more than she bargained for and is embroiled in a thick of things than she would have like to.
It has been 9 years since Patchett published Bel Canto and I wonder if she has moved on since then. State of Wonder was shortlisted in the Orange Prize 2012. The book came through too late so I didn’t read it before the winner announcement.
I thought Patchett had done a good job building a mystery around Eckman’s death and gave us enough background of the characters’ emotions and motivation that drew me into the story at the earliest. It made me invest in Marina’s plight. Marina was a gynaecologist and Dr. Swenson’s student before she became a pharmacist. The change of career and studies happened after Marina committed a childbirth mishap one day.
I am also keen to find out what happens when Marina penetrates the Amazon jungle to find Dr. Swenson. I admire Patchett for her fluidity in her writing, she can really write! (I am not sure if you notice that the writings in Patchett two novels that I have read so far occupied the entire page. There is hardly any white space in the pages and hardly any paragraphs breaks.)
It paints a very atmospheric picture of the Amazon jungle and the ways of the Lakashi tribes that Dr. Swenson based her research on. I love the scientific discussion around the research and the men and women who are committed to pursue a cure for a common disease. Patchett had done a good job researching in this aspect. There were many memorable scenes in State of Wonder that I could remember than Bel Canto, for example the struggle with an Anaconda, childbirth and Dr Swenson’s insistence on surgery without the necessary equipment and sterile tools etc. There were many surprising twists in the stories, I like the scientific ones but reject the ludicrous ones (I’ll come to that later). The character Dr. Swenson comes alive as a powerful and strong woman that would do anything in the name of science. The bond between the local boy Easter with Marina and Dr. Swenson was something special. There were a lot to chew in the book and it delivers both horrifying surprises and heart warming stories at once.
I must say I enjoy State of Wonder a lot more than Bel Canto….. but not quite, because towards the last 30 pages, a plot twist ruin it.
I read Bel Canto 2 years ago and this is what I have to say about the book:
I must say only the most incorrigible dreamer will get sucked into such a dramatised event development in a hostage situation. I expect retaliation, torture and threats, tension; instead Patchett spun a cheesy, romanticised turn of events of a supposingly incarcerated ennui.
State of Wonder is less dreamy but nonetheless cheesy, it gave me a Hollywood feel of happy ending. You know one of those movies that had to end happily therefore a predictable, a sort of Lazarus raise from death and there is a scene when the hero or the star of the movie rise up from the ashes and came up from the ruins alive? That’s how I feel about the ending and it makes me cringed. The ending lack realism, it has the Elle, GQ, Vogue, Gourmet magazines story article feel to it (which the last time I read these, I was in my early 20’s) which are in actual magazines that Patchett wrote for.
If you fancy a walk in the jungle, an encounter with an Amazonian tribe and you don’t feel you should take the risk of getting Malaria and feeling all sweaty and hot under the scorching sun, read this book. I have been harsh at the last point. I enjoy most of the stories prior to the horrible all-perfect ending.
Reading this for the Orange Prize shortlist 2012.
Hardback. Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2011; Length: 353 pages; Setting: Amazon, Brazil. Source: Reading Library. Finished reading on: 14 June 2012.