About two years ago, someone told me I should read State Of Wonder. I can’t remember why, but I think a few people had all read it around the same time, and were talking about it. It was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2012, as well as others. So I bought a secondhand copy, put it on my shelf and forgot about it, largely because I was completely uninspired by the cover, if I’m honest. A few months later, I needed books to take with me to Costa Rica, so packed it (along with Amy And Roger’s Epic Detour, which I read all in one go on my flight to Miami, and cried so much that the woman next to me was quite concerned), and promised my friend that I would leave it with her. I regretted that as soon as I finished it.
I kept telling people about it, but nobody seemed to be taking much notice, apart from the ones who already knew, so I bought Georgie a copy in the autumn, and she really liked it. And then I was envious. I wanted to read it again. So when I saw this while circling Waterstones in Camden while catsitting, I knew it was exactly what I wanted. A good story that I didn’t remember too much about.
State Of Wonder is about the Amazon, and women in science, and fertility, and drug development, and ethics, and dying far away from home, and loss, and grief, and fear, and all sorts of other things besides. What I particularly love about it is that it is a book about women doing something big and important: it is about science, and worldwide implications of their actions, and while yes, the two women at its centre are influenced by their relationships, those are very much secondary – it’s so refreshing! Although I would perhaps have preferred for there to have been even less about those relationships, they’re also pretty important.
I don’t re-read books very often, and it was interesting to think about how differently I responded to it. A lot has changed in my life since October 2014, and I am very different. I really noticed that in how I felt about the book, about what was happening to everyone, about the people involved and the ways in which they behaved. I don’t remember it making me as sad first time around as it did this time, but I had to stop reading it one morning because it made me too sad. I responded entirely different to Annick Swenson: the first time, I remember finding her intimidating and unsympathetic and dragonlike, but this time I see her very differently, as – like with many people I know, especially women – initially scary, but actually great, and encouraging if you look for it, and someone who has to make some pretty tough decisions (standard Unavailable Older Women In Positions Of Authority stuff, really). I am pretty sure that, before, the ending didn’t make my chest ache with sadness, but this time it did, and I’m back to wanting everyone I know to read it and love it like I have.
I’m now extra-excited to read Bel Canto. And I want very much to go to Nashville so I can go to Parnassus Books. I guess it’s time to read every interview with Ann Patchett that I can find.