Rusting Rivets and the Search for Love: Deborah Install’s A Robot in the Garden

img_0807Install, Deborah. A Robot in the Garden. Toronto: Penguin-Random Canada, 2015.

Just a quick review of a novel that caught my eye last week. Intrigued, I bought it.

Deborah Install’s novel begins with Amy and Ben discovering a battered and dirty robot lying in their garden watching the neighbours’ horses. Yes, this novel calls for a certain suspension of disbelief. What follows is a work of picaresque whimsy as Ben, facing life without the departed Amy, and Tang the robot journey the world, premium class—Tang isn’t comfortable with anything else—searching for Tang’s maker. Time may well be short. The glass container holding some unknown but essential fluid in Tang’s chest is cracked and the fluid level is dropping.

If you’re in the mood for George Eliot or A. S. Byatt, then you will probably want to give A Robot in the Garden a miss. The same is true if you are looking for a highly technical examination of artificial intelligence. However, if you are looking for a light-hearted but sharp eyed observation of contemporary values, then you may well enjoy this novel. It reminded me somewhat of Candide—if you can envision a Candide written by a Voltaire img_0807 feeling somewhat mellow. While the novel does raise all sorts of questions about the nature of cognition, how to define self, the emergence of consciousness, and what constitutes a person, it does so with gentle humour and says perhaps far more about love, loss, grief, and recovery than anything else. Ultimately, A Robot in the Garden is an optimistic and insightful book.


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