Novel of the week: Bewilderment by Richard Powers
Powers’s new novel is a ‘ghostly and affecting’ tale that marries sci-fi with ‘family romance’
Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images
Richard Powers’s new novel (shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize) is a “ghostly and affecting” tale marrying sci-fi with “family romance”, said Rob Doyle in The Guardian. It centres on astrobiologist Theo Byrne, whose wife, Alyssa, has recently died in a road accident. Theo lives with his “other-worldly” nine-year-old son, Robin, an aspiring environmental crusader who’s suspected of being autistic. Rejecting the “meds” his doctors propose, Theo signs Robin up for an experimental, AI-influenced treatment that involves his emotional states being “synced” with those of his dead mother.
Powers has long explored “complex ideas” in his fiction, and Bewilderment follows in that line, said Sam Leith in The Daily Telegraph. It covers big themes, including neurodiversity and environmental collapse. Yet in other ways, it’s so “direct and simple” that it could almost be a young adult novel. Characters are “untroubled by much complexity”, and the overall message boils down to “exploitative capitalism bad; wonder of creation good”. In short, it’s a little “thin and sentimental”.
Heinemann 288pp £18.99; The Week Bookshop £14.99
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