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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

“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)

What members say

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  • Overall

Do yourself a favor and listen to this book!

Ann Patchett has created a compelling and luminous book. From the first few moments I was drawn in to the beautifully written story. Hope Davis renders the characters in a way that enhances the ever more engrossing narrative. There are many threads to pay attention to in State of Wonder - the complex relationships of the characters, the scientific mystery, the growing ethical questions - but even the Amazonian jungle becomes a character in its own right. I've listened to hundreds of books from Audible in the last 5 years. Ms. Patchett's goes in my top 5. Listen to will be doing yourself a favor.

133 of 145 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

The Amazon amazes...

Spectacular setting, spectacular writing, spectacular narration. There is much that I love about Patchett's work, tops on the list is that she stays away from the usual relationships and customary pairings, going for combinations which might seem strange on the surface but really do make sense from an intuitive point of view. And "State of Wonder" has this quality in spades. Minnesotans in the Amazon - can't get much more disparate than that! I also think that the Amazon basin is a complete character in this book, and without it there could be no story. The plot lines are drawn with precision, and I am sure it would have been possible to predict the ending, but I intentionally ignored that aspect in my listen, knowing that if I really thought about it I could have seen it coming, but I preferred to be surprised.

The narration was ideal. Hope Davis develops the story in a mellow, even tone, managing characterization without unnecessary dramatics that can distract.

I love that in the 50's or 60's we'd have two old guy scientists duking it out in the jungle - certainly with firearms involved - but now we have two women, one middle aged and one almost elderly, having a sedate, scientific dialogue about "phantastic" pharma from the rainforest. What's not to like?

81 of 90 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Hollace
  • Newark, OH, United States
  • 06-27-11

State of Wonder

I almost gave up on this listen after the first hour. I am so glad I didn't because the book suddenly took off and I stayed awake all night just to see what would happen next! The story is so well written that you will feel yourself a part of the adventure. I even caught myself scratching imagined insect bites. Hope Davis did a fine job as narrator. Well worth slugging through the first hour.

57 of 65 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Don't Bother

I, too, was looking forward to listening to this book. Loved Bel Canto. But this one really disappointed. The overall concept of the plot was interesting, but the details as it unfolded were not believable. I found Marina to be wishy-washy and naive. She really irritated me! And Hope Davis's narrative style added to the disappointing experience. Her voice was very flat and uninteresting. I plodded on to the end just to find out what happened, but cannot recommend this book to anyone.

44 of 52 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Laurie
  • Bellingham, WA, United States
  • 01-20-12

Don't bother

As a literature teacher and voracious reader, I was excited to listen to a book with so many wonderful reviews. A quarter through the book, I was still waiting for the brilliance. It takes forever to get to what I thought was the plot. I patiently continued, still waiting, ending with little satisfaction. While this book is very well read, the plot is so thin and ultimately ridiculously unrealistic, it completely lost me. If you like science/medical-related plots, don't bother - it lacks any kind of reality. I'm still questioning all the accolades of this book, the wonderful reviews, the placement on 'best of' lists - I find it baffling. As a fairly eclectic reader, I can find some value in most books - not this one. Don't waste your money or your credit.

32 of 38 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

You Had Me at Amazon Jungle--Unfortunatetly

Lured in by thoughts of the jungle unfolding before my eyes, howler monkeys screeching over head, the roaring of jungle cats stalking through the grasses, native tribesmen with bundles of shrunken heads for sale along the banks of the river...WAIT a minute!!! That's the Disney Jungle Cruise...Not since I saw the "back side of water" have I been so disenchanted.
Not even decent writing can save this creepy (more about that) ridiculous story. Unlikeable characters, stereotyped natives, absurd plot, with a made for LifeTime channel ending that had me wanting to hit myself--just for finishing. Creepy? Pregnant great-grandma's do that to some people.
Suggested reads for those wanting some jungle adventure where the only creepy things have more than 2 legs and are crawling on the ground: The River of Doubt, Lost City of Z.

47 of 58 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


Ann Patchett is an excellent writer and Hope Davis was an excellent choice of narrator. Part mystery, part comedy, part soul searching - there is a bit of everything in this book. There are points of the novel where one has to suspend disbelief but overall, it was well worth downloading.

29 of 36 people found this review helpful

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I was absolutely consumed by Ann Patchett's newest offering which takes us to the depths of the Amazon for drug company research. I knew very little about the book when I began other than it was written by the author of Bel Canto which was a huge recommendation and that it took place in the Amazon, another positive. The two books by Patchett couldn't be more different. I pretty much tuned out the rest of the world for hours at a time while I looked for excuses to listen to just a few more minutes. I found the pace of this much quicker than that of Bel Canto which I read in paper not audio format. I won't re-hash the plot because you can read that elsewhere and I don't want to give too much away but I found the entire premise of the book compelling and was completely mesmerized by the storyline. Two such varied titles as Bel Canto and State of Wonder make me marvel at the abilities of this author.

21 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Robert
  • Yamhill, OR, United States
  • 07-21-11

Not bad not great

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.

21 of 26 people found this review helpful

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First of many

This is the first Ann Patchett book I've ever experienced (never read anything, just listened). I loved this story. It was engaging and interesting and I connected with the characters. Hope Davis' narration was pitched perfectly, and she handled the Australian accents with ease. Loved this story. It made me go looking for more Ann Patchett.

23 of 29 people found this review helpful