Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Robot in the Garden - Deborah Install

Published; 23rd April 2015, Doubleday

Source; ebook, purchased

My Rating; 5 out of 5 stars

The Set Up;

Ben chambers can't see that his life is about to crash and burn. He is content to let things happen; to take life for granted. Then one day his wife tells him that there is a robot in the garden. Ben feels a strange kinship with the dented, rusted, ill made little thing and takes it in, trying to clean it up and find out where it is from. He is so absorbed with 'Tang' that his wife leaving comes as a complete shock. Finally galvanized into action, Ben sets off on a journey across the world with Tang - a quest to find the 'bot's creator and get him repaired before it's too late.


In 2013, I was at the Festival of Writing in York (UK) run by the Writer's Workshop. During the Saturday night live competition, I heard Deborah Install read from her as yet unpublished, unbought novel. It came as a huge relief to find out that she had found an agent and then a publisher as I was dying to know what happened next. I've never met Deborah so simply demanding to read the rest of the novel seemed a bit presumptuous.(In case you're wondering, yes it did get my vote in that competition.)

This is a story unlike any other. A modern fable about family, loss, friendship, growing up and yes, getting on with things. Ben is a sympathetic character, however exasperating his behaviour can sometimes be. He has allowed himself to stagnate after his parents death, neither moving forward with his life nor growing as a person, he takes his comfortable circumstances and his hard working wife for granted.

And the one day he finds a battered, broken robot in the garden, unlike the modern androids - used as house keepers and servants by so many people if they can afford them. Tang is different and although Ben isn't sure how, Tang is special. Ben becomes completely absorbed in Tang, who has a sentience never yet achieved in AI technology but the vocabulary of a two year old...and the manners to match. From there one of the strangest and most absorbing friendship in literature is born. In a round the world quest to save Tang's life, the pair confront diverse attitudes to androids and robots, the ties and pulls of someone needing you and relying on you and what it really means to be human, and more importantly humane. Through his growing friendship with Tang, Ben confronts the fact that he is even more broken than the 'bot, and with the realisation comes hope for the future. Of course there are many difficulties and dangers to overcome first...

This is a wonderful debut. Warm, funny, poignant and honest told in an accessible but intelligent way. If you're looking for hard sci-fi you won't find it here - that's not what this book is about. In fact you'll find a few holes if you prod it under a scientific microscope, but then you'd really be missing the point. This is an examination of the flawed but beautiful human spirit and how it interacts with others to become something greater than the sum of its parts. Simply lovely. One to read and reread.

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