Dazed & Mystified by the Brilliance of Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Dazed & Mystified by the Brilliance of Bewilderment by Richard Powers


Not only did this particular novel come with a lot of hype, it also left the book world bewildered –see what I did there? On a serious note, the Booker shortlisting of this title really pushed it on all platforms, putting it pretty much everywhere. If you’re anything like me you might feel somewhat intimidated by the Booker shortlist. A list that, in the past, selected books so highbrow and dense that you might have required a membership to a fancy golf club while sporting a moustache. It’s only in recent years that I’ve really started to enjoy reading from the Booker shortlist. Maybe my reading has grown, my intellect sharpened, or perhaps the list has just become more accessible. I’d like to think the latter, as the list is slowly—it’s not there yet—starting to represent more black authors, more female authors and, hopefully, more queer authors as the years tick on. I felt ready for this read and, ultimately, it was everything I wanted it to be: easy, accessible and heart-breaking – oh, so heart-breaking.

 About the Book


A heartrending new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning and #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Overstory.

The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He’s also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin’s emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain….

With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing vision of life beyond, and its account of a father and son’s ferocious love, Bewilderment marks Richard Powers’ most intimate and moving novel. At its heart lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperilled planet?


Have you ever read a book where you’re sitting there happily, just enjoying wherever it is the author seems to be taking you? Being led on, full trusting—so much so that letting down your guard feels like it might be the right thing to do. Don’t do that with this book.

Richard Powers has this talent where, through his prose, he’s able to lure the reader in. He presents you with a hooded figure in the darkness who, simply because he’s smiling at you, seems deserving of your trust and—oh, boy—once he has that, he proceeds to rip your heart to shreds with his beautiful writing and slow burn story.

Bewilderment absolutely deserved its position on the shortlist. It’s a wonderful story of a father-and-son relationship that delves a tad deeper than your average. Theo is a single dad, just barely hanging on; while his son Robin, fascinated with nature, is slowly trying to grapple with the world around him. Both father and son are coping—but only just—after the loss of Theo’s wife and Robin’s mother and, when Robin is expelled from school, teachers there encourage Theo to put him on psychoactive drugs. Theo, not willing to going through with this, instead enrolls Robin in an experimental treatment that trains Robin on the recordings of his mother’s brain. Robin begins to thrive in this treatment and quickly catches the eye of media—something which Theo didn’t want. All he’s after for his son is a life that’s quiet and protected.

Going in, I thought that this book would be laden with jargon and intricate science, all told at arms-length by a father trying not only to grieve his wife but to get his son to cope in a world that’s failing him. I think what struck me most about this novel was the elegant way in which Powers tells this story of a father and a son trying to survive in a disruptive world, leading life as best they can without the rudder of a wife and mother figure. It seems to be that death slowly follows them around.

Bewilderment is told in segments, slices-of-life and, as it nears the end, your heart is slowly left to dissolve in your chest, leaving you sitting in your reading chair wondering how a book could so beautifully, poignantly show you what you haven’t seen, heard, or done.


Please read this, for your soul and because you should.


4 stars out of 5


This review copy was purchased from Takealot. Published by Penguin Random House.