So the deal was to read the latest Ann Patchett novel ‘State of Wonder’ for book group this month. The trouble was I had resurgent guilt about not having read her highly recommended ‘Bel Canto’ that Steph loaned me years ago (I still have it, Steph, but at last it’s been read).
You may recognise that feeling – it should have its own name, that peculiar mix of elation/happenstance/guilt/revelation! The opposite of schadenfreude, perhaps. This is the joy of discovering wonder ….that you love a book while feeling guilty that your friend was right to have thrust this novel into your hands several years ago and said “read this” so now you have but you have to belatedly fess up that you dawdled and did nothing about it, but now you have and it’s a revelation and you want to read it all over again because you think you missed some wonderful subtleties and like the experience of reading it and enjoy tracking all the little details and can you please rewind reading it for the first time again as you want that experience all over again!
Gladly this is the second book that has done this to me this year… my $2 battered and stained old copy of ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck was another. Although it was not recommended to me in the same enthusiastic way. It hovered out there as a classic that didn’t immediately appeal. But once read, I wished I hadn’t read it so I could read it for the first time all over again. My comment at book group for that novel was “It’s somewhat wasted as a school text, as kids miss that moment of revelation that they would get as an adult reading it for the first time”. An intriguing point that was a little misunderstood by people who thought that kids should read the classics. But should they … are these adult books wasted on them?
Anyhow back to Ann Patchett. I had read “Truth and Beauty” and thought she was a strong, admirable writer. But now I really admire her – her dispassionate sympathy, empathy, whatever it should be called is an amazing attribute.
So now I am well into ‘State of Wonder’ and am in that state… wondering how she does it. Where are we going, what’s going to happen. Having canoed up dark remote streams on the Whanganui River, into our own mysterious, entwining bush, I really understand the remoteness, the otherworldliness. Perhaps in a way that urban Americans in particular would have missed.
A writing friend thinks ‘Bel Canto’ is the better novel, and perhaps it is. But ‘State of Wonder’ is less tightly wound, more relaxed, which is nice. There is still the lovely attention to detail – themes picked up and put down, like threads of embroidery. A style I aim for in my own writing. She likes people – cranky people, disabled people, annoying people, naiive people, native people, sweaty, awkward human beings.
So I will let you know, world, when I get to the end…