Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Big Pharma Crimes in the Heart of Darkness

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Big Pharma Crimes in the Heart of Darkness

Article excerpt


STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury, [pounds sterling]12.99) WHEN Ann Patchett herself divides her career into pre- and post-Bel Canto -- her fifth novel which won her the Orange Prize -- it is little wonder that the literary world has been so excitedly awaiting her latest book, State of Wonder.

Ambitious in theme and backdrop, the novel had a good deal to live up to and, mostly, succeeds.

It tells the story of Marina Singh, a 42-year-old research doctor from Minnesota who is despatched to the Amazon to investigate the mysterious death of her colleague, Anders Eckman.

Anders was sent there to track down an elusive scientist being paid by their employers, the pharmaceutical giant, Vogel, to deliver a pill which promises to beat the biological clock and grant women lifelong fertility -- allowing them, if they wish, to have children into their seventies.

In a curt letter, Dr Annick Swenson reports her unwanted guest dead from fever and considers the matter closed. Not so Anders's wife or Marina -- or her elderly boss, Jim Fox, who is also Marina's lover.

Swenson is as inhospitable as the terrain and treats Marina like an ignorant inconvenience when she arrives at her primitive lab in a treechoked tributary of Brazil's Rio Negro. There she has been living for years among the primitive Lakashi tribe, who provide the key to the secret fertility formula that Vogel hopes will net it a fortune.

To add to the tension, Swenson was the lecturer Marina feared most as a young medical student and the doctor who indirectly caused her to quit obstetrics for pathology.

Through a series of startling events, Swenson not only restores Marina's faith in her ability as a surgeon but the two women -- both single and, for the time being at least, childless -- form a bond. …

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