Title: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
One Sentence Summary: A young pharmaceutical scientist heads into the heart of darkness that is the Amazonian rain forest to find her lost coworker and confront a scientist on the loose.
One Sentence Review: Anne Patchett’s beautiful writing alone is enough reason to read this book.
Why I Read It: I have a special place in my heart of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, so hearing this one compared to it was enough to make me want to read it.
Long Review: When Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmaceutical research scientist, is sent to the jungle in search of an elusive colleague and former mentor, it looks like a lost mission. Dr. Annick Swenson is supposed to be working on a miracle fertility drug. Instead, she’s cut of communication with her funders and refuses to tell anyone where she actually is. Marina’s research partner, Anders Eckman, was sent to find Dr. Swenson first, but died before he could complete the mission. As Marina heads into the Amazon, it’s unclear what she’ll find and how she will be able to battle her own demons while dealing with complicated ethical questions and the ire of Dr. Swenson.
One of the big reasons this particular popular fiction title stood out to me was a repeated suggestion that Patchett has written the female Heart of Darkness. I mean, it’s almost impossible to read any professional review of the book and not have some reference to Joseph Conrad’s book. Even the book description from the publisher ends with the line, “It is a tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side.”
In my view, that’s a good thing, since I’ve always held a special place in my heart for Heart of Darkness, but that’s not the case for everyone. While it’s possible my Heart of Darkness expertise is fading, I didn’t see much connection between the two other than the premise of the book — a person is sent into the Amazonian wilderness to search for a lost colleague and deal with someone that has, potentially, gone crazy out in the jungle.
Plot questions aside, this book is worth reading if only for Patchett’s beautiful writing. She had this way of moving back in forth in time and space, from Marina’s present to her past, from the Amazon to Minnesota to India, without ever missing a beat or leaving the reader behind. Her descriptions of people and the jungle were intense and captivating. I was drawn in throughout the entire story.
I’m not sure how I feel about the ending of the book or the questions it raised, or even, in some ways, what I thought of the book as a whole… but the writing, wow. I cannot wait to try another one of Patchett’s books to visit her beautiful prose again.
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!