When I read Bel Canto a few months ago with Reading Buddies and strongly disliked the ending, I told myself I’d give Ann Patchett another chance before I made up my mind about her novels. When I found out Hope Davis, whose narration of Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light was absolutely fantastic, did State of Wonder, I decided to give it a try.

About the Book:

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (audiobook cover)When Dr. Marina Singh finds out her former lab mate at Vogel Pharmaceutical, Anders Eckman, has died of a fever in the jungle, she is shocked and saddened. Dr. Eckman had gone to Brazil in search of Marina’s old professor, Dr. Swenson. The latter has supposedly been developing a potentially lucrative drug for years but has cut herself off from all outside communication, preferring to continue her work unmolested in a hidden corner of the Amazon.

When Dr. Eckman’s wife hears the news, she begs Marina to go to Brazil herself, to learn the details of Anders’ death at the very least. And when Marina’s boss decides they must get through to Dr. Swenson, Marina finds herself agreeing to go. What follows is Marina’s adventure in Brazil, among secretive scientists and the tribe they’re studying.

My Thoughts:

I was really hoping my reaction to Bel Canto was a one-time fluke, that whatever I read next of Ann Patchett’s would sit better with me and I’d dive into her backlist enthusiastically. Not so. With Bel Canto, I found myself sinking into the novel, really enjoying myself, only to be jarred back into reality by an incongruous ending. Sadly, the same thing happened with State of Wonder. In both cases, the ending felt wrong, like Patchett wasn’t sure how to wrap things up and just picked an easy way out. All the threads and themes she had so carefully developed throughout suddenly felt forgotten, and I was twice left wondering at such an abrupt conclusion.

I have no doubt that readers who are already Patchett fans will love State of Wonder. I spent the first 95% thinking I certainly would. Patchett’s writing is beautiful, her characters are clear and complex, and her stories evolve in unexpected yet believable ways. But for me, she’s 0 for 2 with her endings. I find it disappointing to invest so much time and energy in a book only to lose your connection in the final pages and walk away dissatisfied. The beauty of the rest of the book is negated when that happens, at least for me.

Hope Davis, on the other hand, was splendid. She is a wonderful narrator, the kind who simultaneously brings the story gloriously to life and is so skillfully unobtrusive that all your focus is on the novel, not on her presence as reader. She has a unique way of gently inflecting certain lines in a way that makes me smile, whether or not humor was intended by the author. I would listen to her read almost anything. If you are a Patchett fan, I would absolutely recommend State of Wonder on audio.

Those are my thoughts. Check out State of Wonder by Ann Patchett on Goodreads or LibraryThing, read a plethora of other bloggers’ reviews, or listen to an Audible sample!

Join the Conversation

12 Comments

  1. So interesting! I was not a Bel Canto fan either, though heard so many wonderful things about this one, was thinking I might give it a try. (Loved Truth & Beauty, though – her non-fiction book about her friendship with a troubled writer.)

  2. I’ve been thinking I should read this, it’s proving quite a popular pick with the book club groups at my local bookshop, I haven’t read any other AP though so I’m not sure if I’d like it or not. I wonder, is it that the ending is abrupt with elements not resolved, or is it more that they are resolved poorly?

  3. I thought the ending on this one was a little bizarre, but to me it wasn’t so terrible that it ruined the book for me. Instead, I thought the main character, Marina, was the weakest link by far!

  4. I just bought this book a few weeks ago after reading such positive reviews all over the place. It sounds like I am going to have to be prepared for the ending, as it seems like it’s a little different. I am eager to check this book out soon, and thank you for your very thoughtful review!

  5. Patchett is not for me. I gave up on Bel Canto but then gave her another try with Run. I finished Run, but could not get into the characters at all. She writes in a “flat”, one-dimensional way.

  6. I agree her endings are abrupt, but for some reason it doesn’t bother me. And usually I find odd endings unnerving – I think I sometimes rebel against stories being wrapped up? But I like how you are able to find takeaways in spite of the disappointment.
    I can see how Hope Davis would be an excellent narrator. We are addicted to Laura Linney narrating the Nancy Drew books – she has a crispness that is so Nancy 🙂

  7. I am so glad you reviewed this. I am totally not a Bel Canto fan but Patchett’s writing is so lyrical (and the covers are so great) that I’m always tempted to try again. Bad endings are the worst.

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