Bewilderment by Richard Powers │ Review


Release Date: 21/09/2021
Age: Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Science Fiction
ISBN: 9781785152634 
Publisher: Cornerstone
Number of pages: 288

Theo Byrne is a promising young astrobiologist who has found a way to search for life on other planets dozens of light years away. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine-year-old. His son Robin is funny, loving, and filled with plans. He thinks and feels deeply, adores animals, and can spend hours painting elaborate pictures. He is also on the verge of being expelled from third grade, for smashing his friend’s face with a metal thermos.

What can a father do, when the only solution offered to his rare and troubled boy is to put him on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy comes to him wanting an explanation for a world that is clearly in love with its own destruction? The only thing for it is to take the boy to other planets, while all the while fostering his son’s desperate campaign to help save this one.

*Thank you to NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review*

Where do I begin? Bewilderment was a beautiful book – moving, transformative in its prose, and deeply luminous. After finishing I had to take a week to process what I had read before even beginning to sit down and write my thoughts. I still don’t think this review will do the book justice. Simply put I have found my favourite book of 2021. Unsurprisingly Bewilderment has been longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021.

Bewilderment follows a father and son in America as they deal with the grief of loosing their wife/mother respectively. I’m not going to lie, I went into this with reservations. Due to the subject of the novel I was concerned that I might find it difficult to resonate with, but I was drawn in and fell in love with the characters. The novel deals with some heavy subject matters and I would recommend you check the trigger warnings. There is a heavy focus on dealing with mental illness, and what this looks like in children, alongside a rather stark image of global warming coupled with political unrest. Woven within the text are beautiful extracts of the Theo and his son Robin visiting fictional planets.

“Which do you think is bigger? Outer space…? He touched his fingers to my skull. Or inner?

Powers’ prose is precise, conveying great beauty for both the natural world and human emotion, whilst equally shining light on our darker temperaments. There is a real examination of modern human relationships with the environment and animals, often not showing humans in a great light. In addition to this the human brain and emotions are studied, introducing a philosophical aspect to the story. Yet there remains a thread of humour and optimism throughout the novel, striking a really good balance and preventing the novel from becoming all doom and gloom. The lyrical descriptions of the fictional planets played a strong role in this and added a unique spin to the story line.

“That’s the ruling story on this planet. We live suspended between love and ego.”

I went into this story with no idea of where it would go and so I don’t want to delve too deeply. There are, I’m sure, many clever meanings that I missed. All I can say is that this novel has left a lasting mark on my heart and the drive to do more. Bewilderment deserves its place on the Booker Prize 2021 longlist and I would be surprised if it doesn’t make its way to the shortlist. Powers is truly masterful and I plan to read all of his previous work.

I highly recommend this book, even if it doesn’t sound up your alley. Perhaps I especially appreciated it because I have such a fascination with space and life off-earth, but the complex emotional ties and dynamics within this novel make it exceptional. Just remember to have some tissues on you. I would even go so far as to say if there is one book you should read off the Booker Prize longlist make it this, but then I’m bias as I haven’t read any of the others!

“They share a lot, astronomy and childhood. Both are voyages across huge distances. Both search for facts beyond their grasp. Both theorize wildly and let possibilities multiply without limits. Both are humbled every few weeks. Both operate out of ignorance. Both are mystified by time. Both are forever starting out.”

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

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