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Powers’ Bewilderment lyrically tackles climate change and the mental health of children

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American novelist Richard Powers attends a photocall during the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival at Charlotte Square Gardens on August 21, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images)
American novelist Richard Powers attends a photocall during the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival at Charlotte Square Gardens on August 21, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images)

This novel is a most unusual book. But one could probably say that about most of Richard Powers' 13 novels. In his previous book, The Overstory, which won him a Pulitzer Prize, he "speaks for the trees". Bewilderment has been shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, the winner of which will be announced on 3 November. 

Bewilderment is, on the one hand, a simple story about a boy and his father trying to cope in today's world, and Powers has made the most of the current crises of climate change and the mental health of children whose future is threatened by this. On the other hand, it is dense with lyrical, poetic love of not only the Earth but also the universe. Prosaically bound to the daily lives of Theo and Robin, it is nevertheless very intense – it is "the story of a child coming into the light", according to Powers, which he delivers in this layered, complex novel. 

Theo is an astrobiologist and spends half his waking hours working on modelled predictions of possible planets, especially their atmospheres, to see where life might exist out in space. This is about as far from human daily reality as one can get, but for the rest of the time he's just a guy, recently widowed, trying to bring up his 9-year-old boy. The two of them are battling to come to terms with the death of Aly - wife, mother and animal rights lawyer.  

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