Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Ann Patchett”

loveallthis’s #cbr4 reviews 09, 10, 11: State of Wonder, Battle Royale, 1Q84


(cross-posted from my blog.)

09 / State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

What a trip. (Puns! Entendres!)

Ann Patchett, I have hung in there with you and generally enjoyed the ride. You write about some delightfully fucked-up people in bizarre, intense relationships. The Magician’s Assistant was kicked off by a death; Bel Canto is about hostages. Truth and Beauty follows a friendship interrupted by illness; The Patron Saint of Liars is set at a home for unwed mothers. (I haven’t read Taft, or Run. I can imagine.)

State of Wonder goes straight to the heart of darkness. Constantly contrasting the well-ordered, frozen Minnesota research lab our protagonist calls home with the steamy, hallucinogenic Amazon jungle she visits to investigate the disappearance (death?) of her friend slash research partner (slash lover???), Patchett weaves a dreamy, trippy tapestry that charms, even without a lot of plot.

Side note: this book weirdly reminded me of the Ender’s Saga books: bringing science / the study of native flora & fauna into conflict with some kind of Western morality.

Three stars. Solid; not great.

10 / Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

So. Brutal.

In a book like this, the story isn’t the story. That is: kids running around and shooting / knifing / exploding / immolating each other isn’t the exciting part. That part’s pretty gross and kind of boring. The real story is: where are we? why are we on the island? who’s pulling the strings? In a really stellar book of this type, the slow reveal is key to the suspense and eventual payoff of the story. Unfortunately, Takami didn’t quite take me there. The reveal wasn’t revelatory enough. It was just okay.

Maybe it was the translation (good, but very mannered), or maybe it was the incredibly detailed descriptions of each close-up, brain-bashing, roped-neck, tongue-lolling death, but this was kind of a pain to get through.

Three stars for being the modern granddaddy of this genre (borrowing from The Most Dangerous Game to pass on the mantle to The Hunger Games – you’re welcome, Suzanne Collins) and for juggling 42 different main characters with surprising ease.

11 / 1Q84 by Harumi Murakami

This was a hell of a read. Its nearly thousand pages are filled with hallucination, obsession, paranoia, abuse, and secrecy. Yet it’s a love story.

Kind of.

This was my second Murakami novel, after The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and the two blur fairly strongly together in my mind. Though this one is weirder and more ambitious, each viewpoint chapter (whether it follows Aomame, the hitgirl who may be in another dimension, or Tengo, the writer boy with a brilliant ward) seems carefully written to advance the story toward an incredibly focused point. Murakami’s light hand (or perhaps that of his translator) takes good care of the reader. The story, while brutal at times, is told gently. I like that.

I won’t say whether this ends happily or sadly, because I’m not actually sure, but I will say that it was incredibly satisfying.

Five stars. Would read again.


sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #32: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

“Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women forever. Dr Annick Swenson’s work is shrouded in mystery; she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate. A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns. Now Marina Singh, Anders’s colleague and once a student of the mighty Dr Swenson, is their last hope. Compelled by the pleas of Anders’s wife, who refuses to accept that her husband is not coming home, Marina leaves the snowy plains of Minnesota and retraces her friend’s steps into the heart of the South American darkness, determined to track down Dr Swenson and uncover the secrets being jealously guarded among the remotest tribes of the rainforest. What Marina does not yet know is that, in this ancient corner of the jungle, where the muddy waters and susurrating grasses hide countless unknown perils and temptations, she will face challenges beyond her wildest imagination. Marina is no longer a student, but only time will tell if she has learnt enough.”

A careful and intelligent novel about science and human nature, I enjoyed reading a novel with such interesting, unpredictable characters and subtle introduction of big themes. There are some heavy themes here but Patchett is rarely heavy-handed and manages to avoid it being an ‘issues’ book with a beautiful story and well written, realistic heroine. The settings are the other star here, Patchett’s descriptions of both Minnesota and in particular Brazil are incredibly evocative, she creates worlds that spring up around you in beautiful detail. I thought that this book was superb but it didn’t have that indescribable element that makes you fall for a book. It was readable and engaging without being a book I thought about a lot whilst I wasn’t reading it. I really appreciated the wonderful way in which Patchett created characters and settings with such skill and I was eager to find out what decisions Marina would up making but I was slightly frustrated by the lack of emotional attachment I developed to most of the characters and would have enjoyed a slightly stronger emotional core to the novel. I would highly recommend this nonetheless, an excellently crafted novel.

The full review is on my blog.

First Line: “The news of Anders Eckman’s death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope.”

Why I read it: I had it on my Amazon wishlist and when it was announced as being on the Orange Prize longlist I bought it. (It has since been announced as being on the shortlist).

Who I would recommend it for: Keen readers who look for careful writing and situations that escape the moral black and white. Fans of Kazuo Ishiguro or Jeffrey Eugenides.

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