I had to read Ann Patchett. Not just because she is now a bookseller who says fantastic things about bookshops but because she keeps raving about books I love; The Tiger’s Wife, The Yellow Birds and most recently A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena. There are authors who blurb all the time and others who are more sparing. Ann Patchett falls into the second category and yet I kept bumping into her blurbs in books. The book gods or whatever had spoken, I had to read Ann Patchett.
I started with her most recent novel for no reason other than it was the first book I could get my hands on and was lost in her words immediately. The novel starts with a death but at its heart it is a book about life. An enigmatic scientist and a large pharmaceutical company have been researching the possibility of a new wonder drug deep in the Amazon. But the company is worried. They have invested considerable money in the research and the eccentric lead scientist refuses to provide updates nor stay in regular contact. When a lab researcher sent down to find out what is happening is reported dead his colleague is dispatched in his footsteps to find out what is happening deep in the Amazonian jungle.
Marina Singh is chosen to go. In part because her dead colleague’s wife begs her to find out what happened to her husband and in part because she studied under Dr Swenson, the mysterious leader of the research. Marina is grappling with her own personal demons; her estranged relationship with her father, her relationship with the company president (who she only ever refers to as Mr Fox), and the falling out she had with Dr Swenson whilst studying medicine.
The book begins like a Heart of Darkness journey. Dr Swenson has put up all sorts of protections to her and her work. Marina is at first stalled by a bohemian couple whose job it is to vet those wanting to meet the Doctor. Everyone Marina encounters is in awe of Dr Swenson and when we finally meet her we learn how far this spell is cast. Marina also learns the true nature of her research which is entwined with the fate of the Lakashi people amongst whom the researchers live.
Patchett explores themes of life and death and all the ethical questions in between.The gifts of life and the gifts of death are ethically challenged on every side. How much is a wonder drug worth? At what price and at what cost? How much damage can merely your presence do to a society? And do good intentions mean positive outcomes?
I loved this book and I love Ann Patchett. Most of the time you choose books to read. Every now and again a book or author chooses you and that when reading is the most amazing experience.
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 26-Apr-2012
Country of Publication: United Kingdom