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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Literary Merit Badges)

Despite last year’s attempts to do more reviews on this blog, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not much of a book blogger. I did enjoy coming up with monthly themes and using that to guide my book selections–because heaven knows it can be difficult to pick one book at a time out of the multitudes of recommended books.

This year, I discovered literary agent Maria Vicente’s blog and her Literary Merit Badge challenge, and I’ve decided to give it a go. The idea is to collect badges by reading a variety of genres, categories, and even different types of “texts” to appreciate the many forms storytelling can take.

meritbadgelitficMy first badge is LITERARY FICTION. Today I finished State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. From Goodreads:

“As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness.”

State of Wonder is the first book on the list for the book club I joined last month, and I was really intrigued by the idea of Heart of Darkness retold with women in the main roles. In that, I will say the book lived up to my expectations. All the women in this novel are well-rounded and fully realized female characters, complex and deeply human.

There is, however, a sense of emotional distance to the novel’s style. The many fraught moments are filtered through a poetical lens, so that reading the book feels like an out-of-body experience. I found the book overall to be like a classical portrait or pastoral: beautiful to look on, something to tilt one’s head at, but neither evocative nor memorable. The kind of thing you spend ten seconds on in a museum before moving on to the next.

The moments that did hit me–and this is perhaps more reflective of me than the book–were the small, unacknowledged tender gestures between characters. A spoiler-free example: when Milton, the Brazilian chauffeur, walks an overheated Marina into the river and sponges water over her to keep her from fainting. I find that sort of wordless, subdued affection incredibly moving and occasionally, very heart-breaking. (It should be a surprise to no one, then, that I’m such a fan of Jane Austen.)

Our book club meets next week, so perhaps after that meeting I’ll have some interesting observations to post. Until then–one merit badge down, twenty-three to go!

4 thoughts on “State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Literary Merit Badges)

  1. I’ve been meaning to read an Ann Pachett novel since I heard her on NPR last week. Maybe I will start with this one. Congrats on getting your merit badge!

    1. Thanks! And yeah, I enjoyed this book, but in a subdued and contemplative way, you know? Wasn’t as moved as I thought I’d be.

      1. I’ve just finished this book and also thghout it was great; the voice’ was brilliant, really pulled me into the story. I did want to shake the central character at times, but she stayed on the right side of plausibility by simply convincing me that such things could happen.Not my favourite Orange Prize shortlist though; I adored The Song of Achilles

  2. […] Things I blogged about: I See the Web: Part Four, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Literary Merit Badges) […]

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