Archive for March, 2012

Further to: Ann Patchett, State of Wonder

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Having formed my own opinion of State of Wonder, I just looked at a bunch of reviews, notably from The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times.  Of these, only the Times gave the book what I would call a favorable review.

I felt that the two negative reviews criticized the novel for not doing things that I didn’t think it set out to do in the first place.

There is a faux romantic interest in the early pages of the novel.  The negative reviewers criticized it for not capturing its intensity, but the romance is faux and the key to that is precisely the absence of intensity.  These reviewers were let down when they discovered there was less to the relationship than met the eye, but I never felt there was any serious heat in the relationship and wasn’t surprised when that was made manifest in the course of events.

The two negative reviews also complained that the descriptions of Manaus, the Amazon jungle, and the culture of the native tribes were not sufficiently nuanced.  These would be reasonable criticisms of a travelog or an ethnological study, but the narrator is neither a travel journalist nor an ethnologist.  She (the narrator) may be forgiven I think for her unsophisticated take on these aspects of her story.

Ann Patchett, State of Wonder

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

I finished Anne Patchett’s State of Wonder.  I am pleased to report that I enjoyed it all the way through to the end and I recommend it to you without hesitation.

The book’s headline premise is this: A researcher in the Amazon has discovered a tribe whose women remain fertile their entire lives.  A drug company that wants to commercialize the discovery has lost contact with the researcher and sends a pharmacologist, Marina Singh (the protagonist) down to Brazil to find out what is going on and what really happened to the last pharmacologist they sent down (he is reported to have died of a tropical fever and buried in the jungle).

I personally didn’t think such a drug would be a big hit, and the reaction of the women in the Writers Group today (when I told them the premise) thought it wouldn’t be a boon to any woman over sixty under any circumstances.  It’s not giving anything away to say that Patchett’s protagonist doesn’t think it’s a great idea either.  But, luckily, that is neither here nor there as far as the story is concerned.

The characters are interesting, the settings are nicely drawn, and the plot is believable enough (believe it or not).  If there’s a fault, it’s in the opening pages that take place at the pharmaceutical company headquarters in Minnesota, but once the heroine is on her way to Brazil, the plot starts to move and it’s a good read to the end.