State of Wonder [Ann Patchett]

From French Guyana at the end of Wild Coast I tumbled down through the Jungle to the Rio Negro via Minnesota for Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.

I enjoyed Bel Canto and like Aminatta Forna’s Memory of Love I picked this up after it had been shortlisted for the Orange Prize.

It’s hard to tell who the main character is, the story follows Dr Maria Singh from frozen Minnesota to tropical Brazil but it is the indomitable Dr Annick Swenson who was much more interesting to me.

Maria drifts along as if carried on the river itself, clinging to characters like Mr Fox and Milton, while being dominated by Annick Swenson or spun midstream by the Bovenders, as she attempts to find out what is happening away from civilisation deep in the jungle, where her company is paying for the development of a fertility drug, what she finds is beyond comprehension.

Patchett wrenches you in with an emotionally charged scene in the first 20 pages and from there you are pulled along on the same current as Dr Singh, feeling disorientated in Manaus and excitement and fear mingled in with sheer curiosity at the Lakashi tribe on who the development depends.

There were a few loose ends that I thought needed tidying up, and at first I wasn’t sure about the pace, but then I realised that the pace was right, this wasn’t about reaching the end or finding out, this was enjoying the journey, and I am quite intrigued to find out if Dr Swenson was right in her last conversation with Dr Singh before she headed home.

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