I'm in a state of wonder over the book I just finished: State of Wonder. My doctor recommended this book to me about a year ago, and I never found it when I was in the library, so I recently broke down and bought it for my Kindle. Wow! Ann Patchett has an uncanny ability to evoke place, which is so important to a writer.
Good, no, great, writers can evoke a sense of place without ever having been there. Science fiction writers create whole worlds out of their imaginations, and writers of historical fiction recreate places and times in the near or ancient past. I found it easier to write my novel after I had visited the places I am writing about. After my son and I took a train trip to South Carolina and visited several plantations, I could then, and only then, write realistically about the setting. The setting for the house is one plantation, Middleton, in Charleston, South Carolina. The house is perfect! The ground floor is where all the meals were prepared, and the dirt floor, low ceiling, and small storage rooms are recreated ( I hope) in my book. One can see the river from the back door of the house, so Olu's escape route could be viewed, and dreamed about, every day of her slave life. After we visited England I could better envision where Joanna lived, and even visited the site of her church and home.
I don't know if Ann Patchett visited the Amazon, but it sure seems like she did from this book. In the beginning, the reader will spend some time in Minnesota, at a pharaceutical lab, but soon be transported, literally, figuratively, to the Amazon. Both the city and the jungle come alive in Ann Patchett's able literary hands. Here is one short passage to whet your appetite. The main character, Marina, is in a hammock in a raised room, in the middle of the jungle.
"The quiet that was left without her was layered, subtle: at first Marina heard
it only as silence, the absence of human voices, but once her ear had settled
into it the other sounds began to rise, the deply forested chirping, the caw that came from the tops of trees, the chattering of lower primate, the incessant sawing of insect life. It was not unlike the overture of the opera in which the well-trained listener could draw forth the piccolos, the soft French horn, a single meaningful viola."
Not only does she evoke the setting like an expert photographer, but then she offers up the perfect analogy. Her characters are wildly different from one another, reachable, and yet unpredictable.
It was difficult for me to put this book down, until I neared the end when I kept putting it down because I didn't want to finish it. There are some twists in the book which make the plot interesting and fun, but mostly it's her writing that makes the book a true pleasure to read.