Posted: Mon 1st Nov 2021

Former mayor of Mold Bob Gaffey reviews this year’s Booker Prize nominees: Bewilderment by Richard Powers

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Nov 1st, 2021

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The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades.

Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK and Ireland. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.

Anuk Arudpragasam, Damon Galgut, Patricia Lockwood, Nadifa Mohamed, Richard Powers and Maggie Shipstead are today announced have been shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction.

The former mayor of Mold, Bob Gaffey has reviewed all six Booker-shortlisted books which will be published on in the run-up to the award announcement day of Nov 3.

Bob is also a keen writer is set to release a book for Mold’s first Bookfest in May 2022.

All this year Booker nominee reviews:

More Booker nominee reviews:

Bob reviews Bewilderment by Richard Powers – An astrobiologist thinks of a creative way to help his rare and troubled son in Richard Powers’ deeply moving and brilliantly original novel..


Bewilderment Review by Bob Gaffey 

This is a shortlisted novel based on Theo and his son Robin. Theo is an American astro-biologist who is concerned about the environment and planet Earth. This book I kept till the end of the reading as I had the impression that it was heavy and all about the science. Nothing could have been further from the truth. This is a love story between a father and a son. Robin is 9 years old and his mother Ally died when he was 7. The love the 2 of them had for Ally is also a strong theme in the novel. The author gets his environmental insights across through his precocious son. Robin is very different to most kids as he’s more interested in nature and the future of the solar system than sport or running around playing with kids of his own age. Robin is always asking questions about the world around him and above him. By answering these questions the reader gets to learn how bad humans are at destroying the Earth and how quickly. By keeping it simple for his kid he keeps it simple for us. Robin feels great pain by the knowledge of how species are being endangered and dying off.

Ally was a full-time environmentalist who spent her life fighting for her beliefs. This was through her paid work and in her own personal time. Her love of ornithology has been passed on to her son almost as if it is in the genes. Robin spends a lot of time sketching and much of it of birds. The relationship between dad and son reminds me very much of the book  Kramer v Kramer, ie. it’s a very special one. It also reminded me of the book THE ROAD which is about a father and son surviving in a post-destroyed world. In our book they are trying to survive in a pre-destroyed world almost like a slow moving car crash as Robin says, people are sleep-walking into it. Because Robin is very sensitive to the world around him he is seen as abnormal by both the school and his fellow students. This causes him to be bullied by kids and intimidated by the authorities.

Martin Currie is head of a research project and was very friendly with Ally. Ally was someone who entered his project to help the research work. She did this by allowing herself to be a guinea pig for this new, important work. MC is a neuroscientist and is doing great experimental work in a new area. “The Currier Lab was exploring something called Decoded Neurofeedback-the big grant money was going to desensitizing people with PTSD. DecNef and Connectivity Feedback were being touted as treatments to all kinds of psychiatric disorders”. The Lab had all the data and the files of Ally which could be matched to other minds. This is done by using techniques by the team and the individual is trained in how to connect to that. Robin is in danger of being punished by the school through giving him drugs and Theo is desperate to avoid this. He turns to MC who offers help with the research. “I was entrusting my traumatized son to a careerist neuroscientist who still had a thing for my dead wife and decorated his office with cheesy posters quoting Thoreau”.

MC connects Robin with his mother’s thought-dreams she left when she was alive. This energises Robin who very much loved his ma and his behaviour improves. He becomes fully alive again and Theo feels the worse is over. MC says, “we’re learning to induce connectivity between the relevant regions of his brain. Neurons which fire together, wire together”. A problem for Theo is that the new president is anti-science and is stopping funding all sorts of scientific research. The story develops into how the 2 of them start doing things like Ally had done ie. political protest which are legal. However, the rules are being changed by the President who is taking more and more powers to himself. There are all sort of subtle criticisms of Trump without naming him. These are integrated into the story seamlessly.

If you want an easy to read book, which is in essence, a love story, but also want some info about the world about us, then this is fine. It could be termed as infotainment as it serves both.

About the author 

Richard Powers is the multi-award-winning American author of 13 novels, who has now been shortlisted twice for the Booker Prize.

The Overstory, shortlisted in 2018, won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, among other honours.

Powers says he is partially indebted to Booker-winner Margaret Atwood for his 2021-shortlisted novel Bewilderment, which explores the anxiety of family life on a damaged planet.

He lives in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and is currently delving into ‘what social media, deep learning, hidden algorithms, and surprisingly intelligent marine creatures have to do with one another.’

About Bob Gaffey

Bob Gaffey was mayor of Mold between 2017 and 2018.

He spent six years as a town councillor in Mold, raising more than £10,000 towards the restoration of Bailey Hill in the town as part of a project to turn the former Norman settlement into an outdoor attraction.

The funds were raised by holding events during his time as mayor in 2017/18.

The former union representative is currently chair of the Wrexham, Denbighshire and Flintshire branch of Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and the Delyn branch of Plaid Cymru.

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