One of the first books I read coming out of the first lockdown was The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (see my blog) and Philippa Thomas then recommended I try two of her other novels - State of Wonder and Run. So, in November I read them both and was happy to escape the dark evenings of a second lockdown, unable to swim or go to Pilates, by being transported to these two very different worlds.
I began with State of Wonder, which follows American scientist Marina as she travels to Brazil to try and find out what led to the death of her friend and colleague Anders. Having found herself having to be the one to break the news to Anders’ wife Karen, her spineless lover, who is also the boss of the pharmaceutical company Marina works for, urges her to go to Brazil on his behalf to find out what exactly happened to Anders in the Amazon jungle.
Marina goes and is wracked with horrendous nightmares that take her back to her childhood visits to her father in India and she eventually realises that her dreams, then and now, are due to anti-malarial drugs. She is stuck in a small town for days, unwell and fed up of being fobbed off when she tries to find Dr Swenson, who Anders was working with when he suddenly died. When Dr Swenson finally turns up, Marina accompanies her down the river Negro and into the jungle.
The plot thickens from there, as Marina lives with the small group of scientists and the tribal people, and gets to the heart of what is going on and why the group keep disappearing off into the trees, but won’t tell her where they are going or why. Things reach a crescendo when Marina has no choice but to risk everything to go on a rescue mission.
It’s a gripping read with a satisfying ending.
Run took me back into safer territory – the streets of Boston on a snowy winter night and to a family in trouble. Bernard Doyle has dragged his two adopted sons, Tip and Teddy, out to see Jesse Jackson speak. Doyle is the former mayor of Boston, and still desparate to see at least one of his sons go into politics. But Tip is a scientist obsessed with the study of fish, whilst Teddy seems set on entering the Catholic priesthood. Doyle blames this on the death of their mother Bernadette when they were both so young, and the boys, though now adults, are still dutifully playing along to please their father, out of respect for the closeness of the family, which was borne through grief.
But when Tip has an accident they area thrown into disarray, and find themselves suddenly responsible for Kenya, a young black girl whose mother was hit by a car saving Tip. Tip and Teddy are also black, unlike their adoptive parents and their older brother Sullivan, who turns up out of the blue from a trip to Africa as the family return from hospital with Kenya in tow.
It turns out that Kenya and her mother Tennessee have been following Tip and Teddy for years, and Kenya at once can’t believe she is staying in their house, whilst also being desperately worried about her mother still in hospital. She is itching to run, which is what she does best, and incredibly well, so agrees to go out into the snow with Tip on crutches the next morning. From here, things get a lot more complicated, when Tip’s Uncle Father Sullivan gets involved and it turns out that no-one is quite who they seem.
I loved this book and it’s examination of family, race and class, and would highly recommend it.