Ann Herendeen's Reviews > State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
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's review
Nov 05, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: read-recently

This is a beautifully written book that is also a page-turner. Like some other reviewers, I found the ending abrupt and unsatisfying, leaving too many of the plot threads unresolved.

Patchett's descriptions of the humidity and the insect life of the Amazon region--not just the jungle, but the city of Manaus--are masterly. I could feel myself wilting and staggering under the brutal sun and debilitating climate, while learning to brush bugs from the back of my neck, not swat them (thereby driving them deeper beneath my skin).

Although much of the plot verges on the fantastic or unbelievable, that's not really the point. I feel we should surrender our disbelief at the start if we're going to read a novel, and not get too worked up over concerns about "realism." As others have pointed out, there is a similarity to Conrad's Heart of Darkness. It's not about the reality or unreality of the story, but its effect on the characters.

My main quarrels with the story are the ending and the main character, Marina Singh. Members of my book club disagreed with me, but I felt that Marina was far too gullible and naive. She was unable to recognize other people's manipulative bahavior and evasions, things that I, the reader, could see coming from, well, chapter one. It struck me as an old-fashioned novelistic device, as in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. These are two novels that I would give five-plus stars to, the best of English literature of the past, but today, in a 21st-century novel, I find the device tired and tiresome.

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