Best-selling author Ann Patchett and accomplished actor Hope Davis make a stellar combination for Patchett's latest novel, State of Wonder, an homage to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Davis deftly voices an international cast of medical researchers in the Amazon jungle. Her talents enhance Patchett's artistically descriptive prose, in many cases coiling the jungle imagery closer than you may want.
Hope Davis voices Dr. Marina Singh's stoic professionalism as she, a pharmacologist, is sent to the Amazon jungle by her employer to seek information about the death of a colleague. Only months earlier Dr. Anders Eckman had also been sent by the pharmaceutical company to investigate the secretive research of formidable Dr. Annick Swenson. In a terse, unemotional letter, Dr. Swenson has announced Dr. Eckman to be dead and buried.
Patchett's gift is to give characters multiple, very human layers, and Davis' gift is to bring those creations to life. Dr. Singh's reserve falls apart as she is plagued by unsettling nightmares and vivid memories of past medical mistakes. Dr. Annick Swenson's imperious personality has, through Hope Davis, the ability to intimidate through your earbuds. Dr. Swenson's arrogance keeps everyone quaking until, as the story unfolds, Davis' tone allows hints of humanity to ease through the doctor's sharp-edged exterior. Davis easily moves from dialects as the individual personalities - among them, a West African doctor, an Indonesian researcher, and a self-absorbed Australian couple - flow one from the other. Davis gives a brilliant performance of a prickly, uncomfortable argument between the married couple Alan and Nancy Saturn, making all who are listening want to distract themselves with the scenery.Terrain itself becomes if not a character, a force, in State of Wonder. Contrasting Dr. Singh's beloved Minnesota plains with the claustrophobic, crawling, itching, frighteningly enveloping jungle, Patchett's words offer Hope Davis another opportunity to shine artistically. Davis infuses Patchett's prose with palpable energy, allowing listeners to exult in the wide, open prairies of the Midwest and then sense the creeping terror of forbidding, dangerously alive Amazonian jungle. While Davis' depiction of a confrontation with an anaconda is not to be missed, be forewarned that Patchett's imagery and Davis' performance will put anyone listening right beside the panic-stricken fictional characters as a life-and-death battle ensues.
For fans of Ann Patchett, State of Wonder is all that one has been waiting for and more. The story has as many twists and turns as, well, the Amazon jungle itself. And Hope Davis takes the joy of a new Ann Patchett book to an even higher level of pleasure through her masterful performance. It is a fantastically compelling adventure trip without the hazards of incessant bug bites, poisonous critters, or sweltering heat. Carole Chouinard
Ann Patchett raises the bar with State of Wonder, a provocative and ambitious novel set deep in the Amazon jungle.
Research scientist Dr. Marina Singh is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have disappeared in the Amazon while working on an extremely valuable new drug. The last person who was sent to find her died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding answers to the questions about her friend's death, her company's future, and her own past.
Once found, Dr. Swenson is as imperious and uncompromising as ever. But while she is as threatening as anything the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are the ones Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina.
State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a tale that leads the listener into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side.
©2011 Ann Patchett (P)2011 HarperCollinsPublishers
“An expansive page-turner . . . Patchett’s fluid prose dissolves in the suspense of this out-there adventure . . . that readers will hate to see end.” (Publishers Weekly starred review)
“An engaging, consummately told tale.” (New York Times)
“A superbly rendered novel. . . . Patchett’s portrayal is as wonderful as it is frightening and foreign. Patchett exhibits an extraordinary ability to bring the horrors and the wonders of the Amazon jungle to life, and her singular characters are wonderfully drawn. . . . Powerful and captivating.” (Library Journal, starred review)
I don't really know if I liked this book or not. Its overall is higher for me than either the story or the narration deserves because the writing is actually really good.
The premise is odd, and the characters all behave weirdly. Plus- I don't want to give anything away here- the ending is very hurried. Some fairly major things happen which ordinary people would definately have some moral hesitation over, and there's basically zip by way of ethical crisis despite the fact that every emotion throughout the rest of the book is pretty thouroughly canvased. People act out of character too. The whole thing just feels like the author had a word limit she realized she was closing in on in the last chapter and decided to finish in ten pages or less.
Plus, the whole thing was depressing. There is no part of it where there is a real celebration of life or the sense that things will be better or any kind of true happiness. Even the thing that is supposed to be happy is tainted so that it doesn't actually feel like a good thing at all.
The writing is very good though. The author can string words together in very precise ways to evoke specific emotions or to paint a truely vivid scene. If you ignored the story, it would be worth it for the writing.
There are 3 things wrong with this book. First of all, the quality of writing is banal, and disgustingly mushy. Much too much is made of the "inner" feelings of the characters; not enough real attention to the plot.
Secondly, the plot revolves around a completely impossible concept - that there is something for women to eat which will permit them to keep producing babies throughout their lives, into old age. This is apparently sheer ignorance of the biology of womens' reproductive ability (i.e. genetically determined, limited number of egg cells).
Third, the writer seems to think this would be a wonderful thing. Whereas actually it would be a disaster for the family so afflicted, when an aging woman has to take care and raise more and more children. A disaster both physically and financially. And with an aging husband, it would increase by a tremendous amount the chance of producing deformed or handicapped babies. And, since the world's major problem is too many people straining natural resources and increasing pollution of the environment more and more, the ability to produce excessive numbers of children amounts to a major ecological disaster.
I was flowing along, listening to the story, the jungle, the "mission". The narration was fine. The set up looked promising... Slow, but promising. Then, well, somebody might have snacked on the mushrooms! This just got silly I tried to stay connected with the story and the author. Searching for the "Wonder", I found not much more than: "Huh"?
I don't regret listening to this. I do wish I had that credit back though.
Narration was too slow, I had to speed up the i-pod. Could've done without all the dream remembrances. Way too long for not much content. I would not recommend this.
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
This book has received a great deal of attention and praise. Perhaps I missed something. That sometimes happens when I listen to a book while doing something else even something as mindless such as riding around in circles on my tractor. But I'm writing this review after just having finished a trilogy by Brandon Sanderson that just blew my socks off and this cannot compare even closely. The story itself was just okay but "listening" to it sometimes seemed confusing with regard to person. It seemed like the protagonist was telling the story (1st person) but then the reader shifted to (she said) 3rd person. Maybe it was just me but that seemed a distraction and the story was just not that fascinating or even interesting or original.
The main character is supposed to be a highly intelligent MD/PhD but she seems really unintelligent and uninteresting Patchett's dialogue. Her character doesn't seem to evolve truly. It was a flat experience for me and the characters became sort of parodies and predictable by the end. I'm not sure I've enjoyed an Ann Patchett since Bel Canto.
I am well able to suspend disbelief and to read fantasy, but when a plot is rooted in the present and is so preposterous as to be ridiculous, it takes a writer better than Ann Patchett to make me abandon common knowledge and understanding of how the world operates. The protagonist, Dr. Annick Swenson, is an ethno-biologist doing research in an inaccessible Amazon village belonging to an isolated primitive tribe. Her research is being paid for by an American drug company which hopes to reap the benefits of its expenditures from the development of a drug that she is working on. The research enterprise is extremely expensive and the drug company has been footing the bill, no questions asked, for about ten years. Dr. Swenson considers it an intrusion into her science to have to report to her employer about what she is doing: no field notes, no test results, no peer review, no research plan, nothing. Still, the drug company goes along with it. In fact, Dr. Swanson purposefully does not keep adequate research or field notes, which she admits she omits so that her employer won’t become too nosy. There is no company in the world that would fund this project under these circumstances, nor would any foundation.
Dr. Swenson is a thoroughly unlikeable person. She’s arrogant, self-centered, rude and a monomaniac; in short, a ***** (sorry about that). She isolates herself in the remote village and refuses any telephone contact, mail contact, or the like with her employer or anyone else. One would think that this behavior might be worth an investment were Dr. Swenson a genius and had discovered something unique, something only she has knowledge of. However, that is not the case. Dr. Swenson is carrying on research on a discovery made by someone else and there are other teams of researchers working in the area nearby on related drugs. Dr. Swenson is a competent researcher, but hardly worth millions of dollars spent over a decade without one word to her employer about either her research or results. Quite frankly, the whole scene is stupid. Then, why did I finish the book?
Ann Patchett is a very good writer (see, e.g., Bel Canto) and her word pictures of the Amazon are excellent. There are subsidiary stories that are interesting and more credible than the plot in chief. Mostly, I became curious to find out how it would all end, how the author would resolve the many threads she created, and while there were some surprises and suspense, they were not rewarding enough to make reading this book worthwhile. While the plot does raise important ethical, moral, environmental and existential issues, it fails to illuminate any of them.
Carol Deming Casey
Ann Patchett writes lyrically in all of her descriptions, the eloquence in which she uses the written word to bring to life this memersizing story is beyond reproach. This is the first works of Ms. Patchell I have encountered and it has created a hunger in me for more. Absolutely worth the time to drive into this wonderful piece of work.
Addicted to Audible!
This is the second time I have purchased an ann patchett book based on the awesome recommendations and been disappointed. Both this book and BelCanto disappointed me. Perhaps I just dont like her writing style, the plot was beyond ridiculous and her books seem to all just end bluntly without a well crafted ending. The character development was good. I think she is completely overrated. The only thing I liked was the reader which made it bearable!
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