State of Wonder by Anne Patchett
As you know this was my selection for wine, I mean book club. I had wanted to choose something that was a good yarn but also contained enough interesting issues to generate discussion. I wanted to choose something I hadn’t read before and also something that was easy for people to access, whether at the library or to buy.
Phew! On top of that it couldn’t really be too long a book, all the book club members have young children and most struggle to finish the book in the month allotted, so when I read The Circle by Dave Eggers, while I loved it and it would have been a fantastic book club book, there was no way many would have finished it (oh, another one I need to add to the book review list!)
So, I found it tough to choose!
I haven’t read anything else by Anne Patchett I know her novel Bel Canto won both the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and it looks great – it’s on the ever growing list.
So State of Wonder is about Dr Marina Singh who works in the lab at a major pharmaceutical company. Her lab partner is sent to the Amazon to convince the obstinate but brilliant Annick Swenson to return with her research or to avaluate how close she is to producing something they can test. There has been no communication at all from her for 2 years and she is deeply resentful of any level of ‘interference’ from her sponsors. Unfortunately the first letter in two years from Dr Swenson informs Marina and the drug company CEO, her older lover, Mr Fox of the death of her lab partner.
Marina is then dispatched to find out what happened and also to finish the mission. They are in the jungle investigating what it is that allows the women of the ncredibly remote Lakashi tribe to continue to bear children into their 70s – with implications for western IVF and fertility.
I really enjoyed the novel, I read it at Christmas time to make sure it wasn’t a dog’s breakfast before recommending it to the book club, and then quickly a second time in the week before the meeting. It’s funny that the middle section that I felt dragged the first time I read it, didn’t bother me on the second reading, and others felt that while this section did drag, it needed to, to convey the emotions of Marina being made to wait by her former mentor with no knowledge of when she may be granted an audience. This nicely mirrors another evening from years before when Marina, a medical resident, was on obgyn rotation with Dr Swenson as the Dr in charge. In an emergency, Dr Swenson made Marina wait to an ultimately devastating end, resulting in the end of Marina’s medical studies and shift into pharmacology.
The novel is full of clever little writing tricks of this type. The childless Marina and Dr Swenson investigating a fertility drug, Dr Swenson’s clinical approach to reproduction but extreme attachment to a remarkable native boy.
We all felt that the ending felt rushed, that another chapter was called for, not for the neat bow-tying to satisfy a happily ever after, it just felt such a rush from the jungle, that there were consequences to be addressed if not resolved and relationships that would be changed that needed a spotlight.
However it is a wonderful book, with evocative language painting a vivid picture of the oppressive and cloying nature of the wildness in the Amazon – well worth the read.