“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.
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.