Many years ago I had a friend at a partner architecture firm in New York. While working together we discovered that we shared a mutual love of books. I am forever grateful for her advice on bookstores in New York, as we well as for a walking tour on my first day in New York when she showed me the twin towers and the Flat Iron building.
While she recommended many books, the one I most remember was Bel Canto. When I asked what it was about, she told me not to worry what it was ‘about’ but just to read it. She said I would fall in love with the language. She was absolutely right. I had never read anything quite like that book.
Ann Patchett’s books span a huge range of subjects, with very little in common between the plots. The vivid language. The characters who felt like you’d known them for your whole life and who stayed with you long after the book was finished. But mostly it was the feeling of the privilege of being allowed to read the words.
While I’ve read all of her other novels, I’ve never found anything quite as extraordinary as Bel Canto. That didn’t stop me from my excitement when I discovered that she had a new book coming out. Sure there was a moment of doubt when I saw that it was set in the Amazon jungle and was about pharmaceutical development, but this was Patchett and it didn’t matter what it was ‘about’. Imagine my delight when I saw it on the shelf at my local library!
I wasn’t disappointed. State of Wonder was an amazing book. I devoured it in days, despite wishing it would go on and on. I still have no interest in the science behind drug development, but the human interaction of the book was mesmerizing. The subtle twists and turns of the plot were like the tributaries of the Amazon, tiny and imperceptible at times, but flowing with great power towards the end.
I would highly recommend this book, though in some ways it’s hard to explain why. There are many things about the story I didn’t like. Some of the characters. Parts of the ending. And yet, the book so enveloped me that it’s hard to break it down into its parts for criticism.
Don’t let the ‘about’ fool you. Like the rest of Patchett’s novels, State of Wonder is about the writing!