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Book Chat: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Title: State of Wonder [buy the book]
Author: Ann Patchett [website]
Pages: 368 pages
Genre: Fiction
Date published: June 7, 2011


Ann Patchett has dazzled readers with her award-winning books, including The Magician’s Assistant and the New York Times bestselling Bel Canto. Now she raises the bar with State of Wonder, a provocative and ambitious novel set deep in the Amazon jungle.

Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina’s assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina’s research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend’s death, the state of her company’s future, and her own past.

Once found, Dr. Swenson, now in her seventies, is as ruthless and uncompromising as she ever was back in the days of Grand Rounds at Johns Hopkins. With a combination of science and subterfuge, she dominates her research team and the natives she is studying with the force of an imperial ruler. 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, who finds she may still be unable to live up to her teacher’s expectations.

In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, and a neighboring tribe of cannibals, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side.

My thoughts:

If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, you’re stoked to have a new book by her to read! If you’re not an Ann Patchett fan, GET THEE TO A BOOKSTORE because you will be a convert. If you come back to me and confess your sins (not reading Ann Patchett), I will absolve you.

State of Wonder is the fourth Patchett book I’ve read. With Bel Canto and State of Wonder, one could say the setting and premise is unbelievable. Speaking specifically to State of Wonder, I found the setting plausible, though not a situation I’d ever find myself. But I don’t read Patchett for how mundane or commonplace her settings are. I read her for the questions she poses, for the relationships she so deftly develops, and for the truths I find in her books.

One quote that I will never forget:

Hope is a horrible thing, you know. I don’t know who decided to package hope as a virtue because it’s not. It’s a plague. Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody just keeps pulling it and pulling it.

I was able to see Ann Patchett at a literary luncheon. I’m not quite sure I conveyed the breadth and depth of my love for her. I didn’t, however, tell her I would have her babies (which I would) because while she fawned over Ethan (which was very nice), she mentioned in her talk that she doesn’t want children. Darn. That was how I was going to profess my love for her.

At the literary luncheon, Patchett read a passage from State of Wonder that made me almost run screaming from the room because the tension in the scene was so high. While on a boat, one of the characters in the book reaches in to the water, grabs an anaconda, and pulls it on to the boat. To see who does and doesn’t die, you’ll have to read the book. But suffice it to say that it was all I could do to stand the suspense while she read the scene aloud.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



19 Responses to “Book Chat: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett”

  1. Beth F ()

    Wow! I haven’t read State of Wonder yet — maybe I should pick it up. My current read is not pulling me in.


  2. zibilee ()

    This is a book that I bought a bout a month ago, and have been anxious to read since then. It sounds like Patchett doesn’t disappoint at all, and I am so glad to hear that you loved it. How lucky that you also got the chance to talk to her as well! I probably would have made a huge fool of myself just babbling and babbling! Great post today, Trish!


  3. Steph

    This was my first Ann Patchett, so no need to absolve me of my sins! I did really enjoy it, although I wouldn’t say it was a perfect book by any means (but really, how many books are?)… it did certainly entertain me enough that I am eager to pick up Bel Canto now, which I’ve had sitting on my shelves for far too long. One thing that I really liked is that while it’s evident that Patchett is a good writer, she does seem primarily concerned with telling a ripper of a story first and foremost! So. Much. Drama. 😀


  4. bermudaonion (Kathy) ()

    This book was my first experience with Patchett’s work and I liked it a lot, but I’m not quite sure I loved it. The middle dragged for me and the ending didn’t really work for me. I didn’t think the characters would have acted the way they did.


  5. Nancy (a musing mother) ()

    I totally agree with the prose and depth but, Dude (yes, I did just call you dude), pregnancy is not something I’d want to repeat. 4 times was enough, thnkyouvrymuch.

    You are a rock star!


  6. Janai ()

    Thank you!
    I loved this book. It was my first experience with Ann Patchett and today I checked out two more books written by her. I keep thinking about the main character (months after I read the book) and wondering what choices she made. I felt that the book was a trip to the Amazon where I faced the choices and challenges faced by the protagonist. It was amazing.


  7. Laura Ashlee ()

    I have yet to read one of Ann’s books. I have Bel Canto sitting on my shelf and plan to pick it up some time soon. I have to say, this doesn’t sound like the sort of book I would like, but I’ve seen so many good things about it that I’ve added it to my TBR anyway. Thanks for our thoughts!


  8. Alyce ()

    State of Wonder is one of my top reads this year. I haven’t read any of her other books, but I own Bel Canto, so it’s next in line when I get some time. That is so cool that you got to meet her! And that quote about hope is so good.


  9. Kathleen

    I’ve yet to read Patchett but have a signed copy of this on my shelves at home. Sounds like I am in for a real treat!


  10. Lisa Munley ()

    What if one HAS read Ann Patchett and is not a fan? Does one get absolution then, or just a slap upside the head? I’ve read two of her books, your beloved Bel Canto, which I could not stand, and Truth and Beauty, which I felt was, oh, I don’t know what. Unfair, perhaps? Anyway, not a fan. Go ahead and slap me.


    Juliet Reply:

    I’m not really a fan, either, Lisa, though I liked parts of this book and parts of “Bel Canto.” I hated “The Patron Saint of Liars,” though.


  11. Cam (epiBloguer)

    You’ll have to absolve me! Patchett is an author that’s been on my radar awhile but I STILL haven’t gotten to her. (Shall I do some hail marys? Sorry, that’s very irreverent considering I’m not catholic. =) I’ve been meaning to read Bel Canto forever and even checked it out once but had to take it back before I could get to it. I’m sort of a nut with the library. I always have the max limit of books out. Why I think I can get to them ALL before some come due, I’ll never know. =) Anyway, this review just bumped her up in line for me. Thanks!


  12. Relyn

    The meal has been eaten.
    The kitchen is clean.
    The leftovers are stashed.
    The walk has been taken.
    Everyone is happy and fed and blessed.
    Now I have the time to stop by.
    On this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to tell you that I am thankful for you and for the connections blogging brings. Sending you much love, Relyn


  13. Ann ()

    This is the second post I’ve seen for this book – I’ll have to put it on my TBR list.


  14. Brittany ()

    I’ve been thinking about reading this book. I’ve never read anything by Pachett, but I’ve noticed her book Bel Canto and it sounded interesting. Your review has pushed me to put her on my list. Thanks!


  15. Juliet

    I would only give this book three stars, though I did like parts of it very much, and I liked Marina, though it’s Dr. Swenson who really drives the story and makes the book come alive. The middle dragged, a lot, and I thought the ending was kind of loony. The thing I liked best were the descriptions of the jungle, especially the part during the thunderstorm.

    You seem so very enthusiastic about the book and Patchett, I was wondering why you only gave it four stars instead of five.


    trish Reply:

    I AM very enthusiastic about Ann Patchett and this book. The reason I gave it four stars instead of five is because I thought it was good — *really* good — but not great. It wasn’t perfect. I try to be discerning when giving out five stars to a book. A five star book is a book that should end up on my list of all-time favorite books. Books like Bel Canto, Word Freak, The Passage, The Poisonwood Bible, Geek Love, The Unnamed, and The Likeness are all-time favorite books for me, all of which I would give five stars.


    Juliet Reply:

    Thanks for the reply! I see now. 🙂 I liked “Bel Canto” best of the Patchett books I’ve read.


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