Spot the Mistakes
- State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Bloomsbury, 353 pp, 12.99, June 2011, ISBN 978 1 4088 1859 6
In Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto, which won the Orange Prize in 2002, a group of international businessmen and diplomats have gathered at the vice-president’s house in an unnamed and, despite some superficial resemblances to Peru, fictitious South American country for Katsumi Hosokawa’s 53rd birthday party. Hosokawa is the head of a large Japanese electronics firm, and the ‘host country’ is hoping he’ll build a factory there. They’ve lured him over by hiring the famous American soprano Roxane Coss to sing after dinner. The party is interrupted by a group of gunmen who burst into the vice-presidential mansion through the air-conditioning vents before the encore and take everyone hostage. Their plan had been to grab the president and get out, but he’s not there, having decided at the last minute to stay at home and watch his favourite soap opera instead. So the kidnappers settle in for the long haul.
Vol. 33 No. 17 · 8 September 2011
Thomas Jones is sharp in pointing out that in Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder ‘the world outside North America doesn’t really exist: it’s a fuzzy, malleable backdrop for the psychodramas of her American characters’ (LRB, 25 August). This is not so much a defect of Patchett’s as a feature of the contemporary American novel writ large. How else to explain Chip in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections fleeing academic disgrace to commit cyberfraud in Lithuania; or the Ukraine of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, where the natives speak in adorable English malapropisms and we learn about the gruesome soap opera called the Holocaust; or Dave Eggers’s two fictional forays to Africa, a good place to give money away or to escape from? As an Indian housekeeper says in Nell Freudenberger’s Lucky Girls, ‘Travelling is for people who don’t know how to be happy.’ At least the late David Foster Wallace’s fiction never travelled much further than Quebec. As for our homeland, I’ve always thought of New York as a city where Martin Amis narrators go to sleep with whores.