Thursday, October 12, 2017

State of Wonder: Hope is a horrible thing

The thing I like about book club (other than getting to hang out with awesome people, which is basically the best thing ever) is reading things that I wouldn't normally pick up. Even if they are maaaaaaaybe not the most successful. Which is where Ann Patchett's State of Wonder falls.

The story is about a woman, Marina, who is a scientist studying cholesterol or something boring like that when she learns that a co-worker of hers has died. Which would be sad but not necessarily much to build a narrative on. But this co-worker, Andres Eckman, died in the Amazon jungle, looking for another doctor, a former teacher of Marina's, who has been studying fertility in a local tribe but hasn't been very forthcoming with those funding the research. Eckman was supposed to find Dr. Swenson, report how things are going, and ideally bring Swenson and her fertility treatments back home.

Marina goes to try to find out what happened and maybe retrieve Eckman's body. There's a lot about her reactions to anti-malaria medication that causes hallucinations and nightmares, something she had to deal with as a child traveling to India to visit her dad. She spends a lot of time hanging out in a town Dr. Swenson visits for supplies, waiting for her to show up so she can follow her back to the jungle.

I would say most of the novel takes places out in the jungle except we spend sooooo much time getting to this point. This is still the main part of the story but it takes a while to get there. And then once you're there it's still sort The character Dr. Swenson is great, as long as you like curt, no-nonsense smart women. But the story doesn't really go anywhere. I don't just mean it meaders although yeah, that. But there are plenty of elements that are introduced (like the hallucinations) that go no where. They're introduced, you think it will be something but then nope. Repeat at least 3 more times. It's frustrating. Some of the mysteries that are introduced are resolved (I won't go into what cos spoilers) but you sort of don't care by the time they get to them. Or I didn't care so much.

The writing itself was beautiful at times. And perhaps if the story had been more focused it would have felt more successful. There's enough here that I'll probably check out something else of hers. If you haven't read her before, maybe don't make this your first. I've heard good things about her other stuff.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 43

Patchett, Ann. State of Wonder. Harper Perennial, 2011.