Advertisement - Content continues below
Books

Bewilderment by Richard Powers: Packs a hell of a punch

Bewilderment by Richard Powers encourages the reader to see the world through the eyes of his nine year old neurodivergent protagonist, writes author Doug Johnstone.

Something weird happens when you’re a novelist. As soon as you write about certain themes and ideas, you begin to see echoes in the work of other writers all over the place. It’s the literary equivalent of buying a certain make and colour of car, then suddenly seeing it everywhere on the road.

Bewilderment by Richard Powers is out now (William Heinemann, £18.99)

Powers won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for his remarkable book The Overstory, a novel that genuinely changed how I view the world.

In comparison, Bewilderment is a more compact and focused story, but it still packs a hell of a punch.

The story revolves around astrophysicist Theo Byrne and his nine-year-old neurodivergent son Robin.

To cope with their loss after the death of Theo’s environmentalist wife, he helps them imagine strange worlds out in space, informed by his work on exoplanets.

Right there on page eight is a discussion of the Great Silence, the theory of possible extraterrestrial life that I used as the title of my new book.

Advertisement - Content continues below
Advertisement - Content continues below

I too used the idea of life on other planets to discuss how we cope with death on this one, and Bewilderment gave me a thrill of recognition.

The book does so much more.

Powers uses Robin’s unique world view to skewer how we disregard our environment, from animal rights to the climate crisis.

As Robin’s behaviour butts up against ‘normal’ society, Theo finds it harder to justify how society is run. When a friend suggests a cutting-edge meditation therapy as an alternative to medication for Robin, Theo jumps at it.

Subscribe to The Big Issue

From just £3 per week

Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work. With each subscription we invest every penny back into supporting the network of sellers across the UK. A subscription also means you'll never miss the weekly editions of an award-winning publication, with each issue featuring the leading voices on life, culture, politics and social activism.

But the conventions of society encroach on their progress, leading to a heartbreaking and nerve-shredding climax.

Bewilderment by Richard Powers is out now (William Heinemann, £18.99)

Advertisement - Content continues below

Support The Big Issue and our vendors this Christmas

Every time you buy a copy of The Big Issue, subscribe or donate, you are helping our vendors to work their way out of poverty by providing 'a hand up not a hand out.' You’re helping Big Issue vendors achieve their #BigWish

Recommended for you

Read All
Top 5 books for rebel girls, chosen by Vivian French
Top 5 Books

Top 5 books for rebel girls, chosen by Vivian French

Book reviews: The Fell and The Selfless Act of Breathing
Book review

Book reviews: The Fell and The Selfless Act of Breathing

The past, present and future of Mr Men and Little Miss books as they celebrate their 50th birthday
Books

The past, present and future of Mr Men and Little Miss books as they celebrate their 50th birthday

What I learned from being held hostage for 450 days
Edith Blais

What I learned from being held hostage for 450 days

Most Popular

Read All
Video showing Boris Johnson repeatedly 'lying' to parliament hits 40 million views
1.

Video showing Boris Johnson repeatedly 'lying' to parliament hits 40 million views

Legacy benefits freeze left disabled people living on ‘historically’ low payments, court hears
2.

Legacy benefits freeze left disabled people living on ‘historically’ low payments, court hears

'Noel Gallagher was mega hungover and Will.i.am kept walking off' - The stories behind Big Issue photoshoots
3.

'Noel Gallagher was mega hungover and Will.i.am kept walking off' - The stories behind Big Issue photoshoots

Plans to remove British citizenship without notice 'would repeat Windrush mistakes'
4.

Plans to remove British citizenship without notice 'would repeat Windrush mistakes'

Support The Big Issue and our vendors this Christmas