Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of Wonder - Ann Patchett (Audio)

Years ago, a friend of mine recommended I read Ann Patchett's "Bel Canto".  I never really took her seriously and blew it off for whatever I was into at the time.  When Patchett then released "State of Wonder" in 2011, and it got better than average reviews (some complained of it being a little slow in the middle), I decided it was time to give her a try.  And if it WAS slow in the middle, audio would get me through it.


I went into it knowing very little, only that it had to do with an eccentric scientist having "gone rogue" in the Amazon.  Hmmm, whispers of "Heart of Darkness" or "Apolcalypse Now".  That was all I really needed to know.


Synopsis:  Dr. Marina Singh is a middle-aged research scientist who works for a pharmaceutical company that is financially supporting a cutting edge drug development project in the Amazon jungle.  Marina's old mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, has been working on this project for years, but is completely unreachable, having disappeared under the radar and apparently gone native.  Marina's colleague was sent down recently to determine the project's status but died of an unidentified fever.  Marina has now been asked to travel to this foreign land, locate the rogue doctor in the wild, determine when the project will be complete (thus possibly making millions for her company) and bring back the effects of her deceased colleague.  Marina couldn't be more horrified at the prospect.


Once Marina arrives, however, she is drawn into a land that could just as well have been a different plant.  She encounters vigilant hippies whose sole purpose is to protect the whereabouts of Dr. Swenson, a deaf boy whom she wants to adopt as her own, man-eating snakes, a group of natives that love to do her hair, and poison arrow-wielding cannibals.  She also finds her mentor to be a force of nature, demanding and unyielding, sacrificing her life and career for the sake of a drug that could change the world.  


Strangely, in the Amazon, Marina begins to make peace with the phantoms that have haunted her for years.  In fact, she believes that she may never be the same again.


My thoughts: Chalk it up to a phenomenal audio production, or Patchett's beautiful writing, or the subject matter, but this book blew me away.  I was never bored, but really the opposite.  I was mesmerized.  


I was completely fascinated with everything about this tribe in the Amazon...their unique biology (won't say any more), the magical vegetation, and their customs.  I felt like I was right in there with Marina, battling the insects and the snakes.  


The characters in the story were as equally as fascinating.  I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved them.  They were quirky and unique, Patchett unapologetic in creating their frailties.  Dr. Swenson was the dominant personality throughout, however, both when she is absent and present.  You have heard she is crazy, and when you meet her you know she is a few cards short of a deck, but only until you see the level of her dedication to the cause do you stand back (way back) and admire her begrudgingly.  Sort of like one of my old bosses.


Some of the scenes bordered on surreal!  Whether it be assisting in a native birth up in a tree hut, or a huge snake (python?  boa constrictor?  I don't remember, but something bad) almost killing a boy, or a few other things that shall remain unspoiled, I just kept shaking my head and wondering "what the hell"???


There has been some controversy over the ending Patchett chose for us.  When I was discussing it with Heather, I was really foggy on the whole thing.  (I must have been anticipating my next audio "11/22/63").  It did not end the way I expected or wanted, and honestly it felt a little too tidy for me.  But I won't let it diminish the overall wonder I felt at completion.


A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for "State of Wonder" was Hope Davis, who is best known for her acting work in the movies.  She was truly everything you would want in a narrator.  Her pace was perfect, she displayed a wide range of accents, sexes and ages, and was extremely pleasant to listen to.  Apparently everyone else thought so too, because the audio book has garnered a list of awards and a spot on the year-end best of lists.


4.5 out of 5 stars   


   

26 comments:

JoAnn said...

Wasn't this amazing? I listened last month and it ended up being one of my favorite audios of the year. My book club will be discussing it next month, so I'll post a quick review with their reaction later.

I really love Patchett's writing and have read all of her books (this is the first time I've listened). My favorite is The Magician's Assistant.

Jenny said...

I hadn't initially paid much attention to this one but the reviews have been so great! I think I'll listen to this one on audio! Thanks for the recommendation!

Beachreader said...

I have this in my TBR stack. I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for the review.

Jackie Bailey said...

I started reading this just before Christmas and still haven't finished it. I think I must have to to that slow middle bit because I am struggling to get through more than a few pages at a time now. I have considered giving up a few times, but think everything will be OK once I get through this bit. Your review has given me added hope. I'll try to push on through.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm one of those who thought it was slow in the middle and didn't like most of the characters!

bermudaonion said...

I read this in print and I was one of those who thought it dragged in the middle. The ending bothered me too.

Zibilee said...

I think the sheer weirdness of this one was one of the things that kept me reading. As soon as Marina landed in the jungle, things just got more and more bizarre. I also felt that in terms of the writing, it was a lot like Bel Canto, which I really liked a lot, and has a permanent place on the keeper shelf. I am so glad that you loved this one and that it was a good read for you. You write some of the best reviews! Even though I have already read the book, your review enticed me!

Nise' said...

I enjoyed this one too and agree about the ending.

Meg said...

I don't think I've seen anything other than a rave review for this one, and I'm definitely eager to read it! The boy-eating snake freaks me out a little, but I'll press on . . .

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I've been a fan of Patchett's for awhile. I loved Bel Canto and can't believe I haven't read this one yet. Of course I have it on my shelf, so I have no one to blame but myself.

Susan Drummond said...

Hi Sandy, my loyal and true friend. XOXO for sticking with me.

If only I could get back to reading. Sigh. I can't seem to focus on anything I've picked up lately. I did get Ashley Judd's memoir at the library a couple of days ago, and it's pretty fascinating. She pretty much tells it like it was growing up, and not how Mama Judd would want you to believe.

I've had Bel Canto on my shelf for years and still haven't read it.

Brooke said...

I still haven't read this one or Bel Canto! What is wrong with me? Come to think of it, I haven't read ANY Patchett. Fantastic review!

Amy said...

This sounds fantastic! I'm glad you didn't find the book slow. I haven't read all of Patchett's work but the few books of hers I have I really enjoyed. I like the idea of listening to this book because of your praise and JoAnn's and I'm a fan of Hope Davis.

Awesome review, Sandy!

Elisabeth said...

Ann Patchett is a wonderful writer, I hope you read her other novels, you will enjoy them too!

wordsandpeace.com said...

I listened to Bel Canto, but read State of Wonder, and enjoyed them both very much. I actually enjoy the way she finished her novels. here is my review: http://wordsandpeace.com/2011/07/05/bell-canto-and-state-of-wonder/

caite said...

I loved Bel Canto, so I will have to check this out.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I love how you review audiobooks. I appreciate how you break down the review! I have not read any Patchett yet but this sounds interesting.

Jenners said...

I've not been too gaga over any Patchett book but everyone seems to really like this one. I shall have to give it a go now that you love it too.

Alyce said...

This was one of my favorite reads from last year (I haven't listened to the audio though). The character of Dr. Swenson was absolutely fascinating!

Darlene said...

I have heard from so many people I trust that this book is awesome that I know I need to make some time for it this year.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I loved this one too! I didn't listen but now I'm wondering if I should have. Although with writing like Patchett's, I tend to like to savor the print words. PLEASE read Bel Canto! That's my favorite of the two, although this one comes really darn close.

Julie P. said...

I'm kind of wishing I had listened to this one instead of reading it.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Now, you *must* read BEL CANTO. One of my favorite books - ever!

(I'll confess I skimmed your review, as I have yet to buy/read STATE OF WONDER).

Kathleen said...

I've got a signed copy from the author on my shelf. I think I need to move this one up in my queue!

Melissa said...

While I was just meh on Bel Canto I really want to read, or maybe listen, to this one!

Laurie C said...

Bel Canto was a wonderful audio! I plan to try State of Wonder on audio, too.