Book review: Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Having read and enjoyed The Overstory by Richard Powers, which I reviewed here, I chose Bewilderment at the library.

This was a good book to read immediately after The Bird Way as bird-watching is a major theme in the novel, Bewilderment

Cover picture of Bewilderment with the text 'From the Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Bewilderment, Richard Powers, Author of the Booker-shortlisted The Overstory'. A face in profile is made from trees and birds above a rocky river, a heron has a fish in its beak.
Photo of library copy

The story highlights problems around raising a neurodivergent child. It is a gripping tale, which I could easily have read all in one day, had I not had other things to do. I finished reading it on the second day. The structure of Bewilderment is unusual with lots of short sections including flashbacks, which would make it easy to put down and pick up again for people with only short spells for reading.

It is not an easy read. There is much to think about in it. Having read it once for the story, I read it again to take in more of the ideas. Bewilderment raises many issues including scientific searches for new planets, climate change, the extinction of many species, the breakdown of democracy, and people’s behaviour and priorities in the age of social media.

Although the main characters seem to be atheists there is hope of redemption in the story.

It is a story of love and loss. Bewilderment was shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. It is available as a hardback, paperback, Kindle edition and audiobook.


Two books about trees

The day we climbed Black Combe I was lent three books. Reviews of two of them are included here. I intend to write about the third one for my post next week.

The Hidden Life of Trees and Overstory
The two books

The Hidden Life of Trees is a very readable nonfiction book by Peter Wohlleben translated from German by Jane Billinghurst. The strapline is What They Feel, How They Communicate, Discoveries from a Secret World. The German edition was published in 2015 and the English translation in 2017.

Some of the information from this book was not new to me as it was included in Underland by Robert Macfarlane. One of the facts I already knew – trees are linked together underground by a network of fungi, which is essential to the healthy life of a forest. In The Hidden Life of Trees Peter Wohlleben was writing from his practical experience of managing forests in the Eifel mountains of Germany.

Much research has been done particularly from the 1990s onwards and there is a bibliography supporting the arguments in the book. It is fascinating to read about how trees protect their young, warn of an attack by pests and decide when to produce the most seeds in a so-called mast year. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the natural world and especially for those with responsibility for management of woodland anywhere. Understanding is essential for the good of the planet.

It should also be read by people responsible for planning and development.

The next book I read was a work of fiction – The Overstory by Richard Powers, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2019. This book is in four main parts Roots, Trunk, Crown and Seeds. In Roots we are introduced to seven individuals and one couple. Their stories are then woven through the book as they realise the vulnerability of the natural world in the face of human greed. There is much drama and suspense. Story is a powerful way of sharing ideas.

The amount of detailed research behind this book is quite astonishing. Unfortunately, like one of the characters in the book, the author has not provided a bibliography. Perhaps this would have been unusual in a work of fiction.

These two books are both excellent on their own. Reading them one after the other reinforces the message that trees need protection.