October 2, 2011

State of Wonder - Ann Patchett

I wanted to like this book. Really, I did. Especially after hearing the author interviewed by Shelagh Rogers (best interviewer ever for authors, in my opinion), and downloading and listening to the full, uncut version. She was so entertaining, and witty, and I loved the passage of this book that she read.

But I come away from it with mixed feelings.

Yes, it was entertaining. Yes, there were parts that were laugh out loud funny and the author can see the humour and irony around her. And yes, it kept me reading to the end, quite quickly (a plane ride on Friday made for good uninterrupted reading time). But in the end, there was too much suspension of disbelief required to make me fully enjoy it.

The premise? A drug company in Minnesota is sponsoring a researcher in the Amazon jungle who is developing a drug that will extend fertility for as long as a woman is alive. The drug company sends another scientist down to get an update on her work. He is reported dead. They send another scientist (Marina, the main character of the book) down, to both find out what happened and finish the work that he set out to do. She ends up, by the end of the first chapter, deep in the Brazilian rain forest and clueless about how to survive.

The characters were really unique and memorable, but at times Marina (who is supposed to be intelligent) is just so stupid. I wanted to smack her and ask what she was thinking at times. And none of the characters were infallible - they all had their quirks and faults which made them much more believable.

It was when Marina reached the tribe where the women bear children well into their 70s that the plot became ridiculous. I managed to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy it for a while, but then reality came back to me and I could only sit back and shake my head. I also found the tribe to be a caricature of themselves - almost what a European in the 1700's might imagine a "savage tribe" to be...

So a mixed review overall. Like I said, interesting enough to be good airplane reading; but not good enough for me to ever want to re-read it. I've already given my copy to the friend that I'm visiting. Has anyone else read this book? What did you think?

1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

Now I'm really keen to hear the interview; I've been saving up episodes of TNC for ages, and will be binge-listening (and adding dozens of titles to my TBR list) later this summer!

I can see where you're coming from in each instance, except your feeling about Marina; I did think that she seemed, at times, to be paralyzed by the guilt she felt over her past experience as a resident, and by her emotional confusion regarding her co-worker's disappearance, strangely delaying reactions in many situations (except in the boat: wasn't that a riveting scene?), but I never felt completely disappointed by her in that way.

However, I do share your ambivalence overall; there are aspects that I really enjoyed, and instances in which I wanted a little more, but I can still see recommending this one for its strengths.