State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Unfulfilled promise…

😐 😐 😐

state of wonderWhen her colleague Anders dies of fever while visiting a research project in the Amazon, Marina is persuaded by her boss and Anders’ wife to go there herself to find out more about what happened to him and to check on how the project is progressing. So after a long (and long drawn-out) journey Marina finds herself working beside her old teacher, researching a tribe of Amazonians whose women continue to have children into old age, in the hope of finding a new fertility treatment.

Patchett uses language well and the book is packed full of descriptions conjuring up the steamy, exotic and dangerous rainforest. Marina is a sympathetic heroine with a troubled past and there is a cast of well-drawn interesting characters for her to interact with. Patchett touches on, but then glosses over, some of the ethical questions around scientific research involving primitive peoples.

Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett

Unfortunately the plot, which starts out promisingly, becomes increasingly far-fetched as the book progresses, eventually reaching a point where I found it difficult to suspend disbelief enough to continue to care about the outcome. This was just as well though since, in order to achieve a dramatic climax at the end, the author suddenly had her main protagonists act completely outwith the characters she had so carefully built up for them throughout the book. I was left in a state of wonder myself at why the author had not realised that even fictional characters have to think and act consistently with the natures they have been given.

In conclusion, a promising start, a disappointing middle and a lazy ending – a book where the undoubted quality of the writing makes it an easy read but ultimately can’t disguise the weaknesses in the plot.

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Amazon US Link

59 thoughts on “State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

  1. Thanks as ever for your candid and well-written review. I do like novels with a distinctive sense of place, and I could see where this one might have had some real possibility. Sorry to hear that didn’t happen for you. P’raps I’ll wait a bit on this one…

    • Admittedly, I seem to be out of step with this one – it got zillions of glowing reviews, showing yet again how much of reading is down to personal preference in the end.

  2. It does seem like it should be interesting…an Amazon adventure. But there are no battles or wild cougars, so I definitely understand your dislike.

    Maybe you should glance at the author’s pic before reading. It seems to tell everything…

    Characters that suddenly act uncharacteristically are quite vexing–and quite unbelievable.

    (Almost done with Baskervilles. I have been noticing that Doyle misspells the word ‘favor’ quite frequently.)

    • She’s not as smug-looking as Grisham though…

      Still enjoying it, I hope? It gets quite scary towards the end, so you’d better keep Bob around. Talking of battles and wild cougars, it occurs to me I didn’t spot any H Rider Haggard on your bookshelves. I’d have thought he’d have been just your cup of tea?

      • Smugness isn’t her problem, I agree. Maybe…dullness? (Oh, so bad!)

        Yes, I am. Holmes just showed up. 🙂

        Never heard of him…just googled. And I think the professor just found a new author. 😀 Do you have a favorite book of his?

  3. Won’t be adding this to my TBR list. I agree with your recommendation of Haggard – Allan Quartermain was my hero for years and “King Solomon’s Mines” was my favourite (note the “u”) too.

  4. I’m glad I read your review today as I’m currently reading this for one of the book clubs I’m a member of. I’m 20% through and I’m wondering whether to put it down because it’s really not my kind of book. This has provided the answer for me. If the start is the best bit – which yes, her descriptions are great, but she tends to go off on a tangent every few sentences, – then I’m really going to be fed up of time wasted if I continue reading. A great review and great timing! Thank you 🙂

    • Yes, I really thought it went downhill from about the middle – though her descriptive writing is very good. An awful lot of it felt like padding though. Thanks for the kind comment! 🙂

  5. I’m one of those who enjoyed it much more than you did. I felt it started off as little more than chick lit with a scenario I simply couldn’t believe in and ended up by offering a really challenging moral dilemma that made me ask questions of myself as an academic. But there you are, it wouldn’t do if we all liked the same books.

    • Indeed not! No, I just found that the suspension of my disbelief snapped totally at the end – I couldn’t for one moment imagine these characters behaving as they did. And I must admit the first half of the book with that interminable journey bored me practically to tears.

  6. I agree completely with your account of this – I was disappointed with it, big time, compared to her earlier, wonderful (IMO) Bel Canto – magical realism in some ways, but it pretty well worked

    • I hadn’t read Bel Canto, though I’ve seen lots of good reviews of it. Unfortunately my annoyance over this one has kind of put me off trying that one – I wish I’d read it first now.

      • Oh I know, I think it gets a bit impossible once someone makes an early bad impression to forgive them – I think you end up being hyperaware of their writerly flaws and more likely to spot them again. Bel Canto was enchanted, except for the ending (only about 7 pages disappointed) so i started state of wonder like someone opening what they expected to be their favorite box of good quality chocs and finding you ended up with a job lot of Hershey’s

        PS, I know you want no more reccs, but Booker longlisted Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (I think on Last Harvest) is a humdingery corkery sort of book, Superb, it one of those I’m trying to slow down with as it is pretty fine.

        Will be getting her 2 earlier books for sure. A Japanese American Canadian woman who was also a Buddhist nun – intrigued?

        • Intrigued is only one of the words that springs to mind! 😉

          I’m starting a new policy of only adding one book to the TBR pile per week – so I now add all recommendations to a shortlist and then pick one. Look out for the first Thursday TBR Shortlist coming to a blog near you soon! (Thursday probably!) So I’ll add this rec to the shortlist – ta!

  7. Sorry that you didn’t enjoy the book. Honestly, I love that cover and I would’ve probably picked up the book based on that alone…. and be disappointed…

    • I really didn’t like it as you’ll have gathered! But I have to say I’m in the minority – most people who’ve reviewed it seemed to think much more highly of it than I did…

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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