Sunday, 19 April 2015

Heart of Darkness

I realise I have so far spent all of 2015 reading non-fiction so I thought it was time to add in a novel. Waiting for a bus home from work one day I scrolled thought the titles on my ereader to see what was there in the way of fiction. A novel caught my eye so I started reading.... and reading... and reading.

Ann Patchett's State of Wonder (2011) is about a journey into the Amazon rainforest. Dr Marina Singh works for Vogel, a multinational pharmaceutical company, at its base in Minnesota.  A letter arrives from Brazil to advise that Singh's colleague, Dr Anders Eckman, has died in the jungle, purportedly from a fever. Eckman's widow wants to know what happened and to have her husband's remains and belongings returned, so Vogel sends Singh to the Amazon to find the answers.

Arriving in Manuas, Singh is clearly in out of her depth. She lacks the supplies and the skills to survive in the jungle. Plus, she is having nightmares, brought on by her anti-malarial pills and her fears of meeting up with her former teacher, gynaecologist Dr Swenson.

Deep in the jungle, Singh learns about the research Swenson is conducting which will have a tremendous impact on the world and financially rewarding for Vogel. Singh discovers the rituals of the Lakashi tribe, encounters some interesting dilemmas relating to interference with indigenous people, and tries to overcome her demons.

For a while there I was engrossed in the journey, keen to learn more about Marina Singh, the mysterious Dr Swenson, and those around her. But then, with the unexpected arrival of visitors to the camp, the story went quickly downhill to a thoroughly disappointing ending. I felt cheated by the way in which Patchett wrapped up the story when it could have gone in so many, much more interesting directions.

While Singh was a fairly well rounded character, most of the others, particularly the locals, were one dimensional. The romance elements were not believable and there was no clear sense of how much time had elapsed in the Amazon. 

Ultimately, what started out as a promising story with an intriguing plot unravelled and became quite ordinary.