State of Wonder … a review

Ann Patchett’s book was my first read from last year’s Orange Prize shortlist. Patchett has won the Orange Prize earlier for her fourth novel, Bel Canto. Naturally, the fact that she had made it to the shortlist again impressed me and I decided that of the 6 books in the list, I would pick this one up first. So. State of Wonder opens up with an employee of a drug company being stubborn and not staying in proper touch with them. She is in the Amazon researching a fertility drug by studying the Lakashi tribeswomen, who are known to be fertile lifelong.

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In order to find out about her progress and what she’s up to, the company sends another employee Anders, the news of whose death reaches the director Mr. Fox and Marina Singh, out lovely protagonist. Now, Anders’ wife refuses to accept the news of his death, that comes via a terse and little worded letter from the camp and begs Marina to go find out, and well, find him. She’s that convinced!

Marina has enough issues of her own to deal with. And, as you may guess, there may be something happening with Mr. Fox that she isn’t quite sure of. Now, the reader is taken into the depths of the Amazon with Marina. Some very interesting characters are encountered en-route. The head researcher Dr Swenson is a huge enigma, as are most of the doctors that work with her.

We meet children and trees, magic mushrooms and pregnant tribeswomen, cannibalistic neighbour tribes and snakes. There are surgeries and hair braids, strange rituals and habits. In some ways, it vaguely reminded me of The Hungry Tide, but that was a much more impressive read. The book is very complete, very meticulous, very thorough. However, it lacks a spark. I read through it too comfortably, easily putting it down when I needed to, easily picking it up again from where I left off – a very convenient book. It didn’t come up in my dreams or stay with me after I finished it; in that it lacked something.

Maybe that’s why it didn’t win the prize.

Quote:  “Hope is a horrible thing, you know. I don’t know who decided to package hope as a virtue because it’s not. It’s a plague. Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody just keeps pulling it and pulling it.” 

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