As per the request, here is my longer review of this novel, which was my joint favourite with the winner.
It was fairly obvious that Patchett's tale of a trip undertaken into an inhospitable jungle in order to track down a maverick researcher had taken inspiration from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness; even the official synopsis directly evokes this reference. While I've never read the original novel, I have seen Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and so made the connection quite quickly. Of course, since Conrad's time the issues have changed and yet in other respects they are perennial. Marina's journey of self-discovery, triggered by its physical counterpart, is also one of those universal themes explored in fiction.
'State of Wonder' turned out to be one of those books that I found engaging from its opening pages and could hardly put down. At heart it was an adventure story and there was plenty of excitement as well as an examination of the ethics surrounding medical research and environmental issues. I loved the strength of the story-line, its characters and most of all the Amazon setting.
Part of this immediate sense of connection was linked to my work earlier in life with environmental charities where we were advocating the importance of the rainforest along with my continued commitment to the welfare of indigenous peoples, especially in this region. Patchett captures the heat, humidity and the insects of the tropics very effectively. It made me happy that I now live in a part of the world with less exotic flora and fauna.
Both this and The Song of Achilles were my favourites among the six short-listed titles for the 2012 Orange Prize. I did favour this one in the final vote due to the issues it explored. It has left me keen to read other novels by Patchett.