Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I am happy to be today’s stop on the blog tour for Deborah Install’s fantastic new release, A Robot in the Garden.
A story of the greatest friendship ever assembled.
The unfamiliar object is Tang, an outdated and hapless robot with an innate sense of curiosity that constantly gets him into trouble. When cleaning Tang, Ben finds a battered and scratched inscription on his metal body. Most has worn away after years of wear, and only a short half-sentence remains: ‘Property of B-’
This is an unusual but thoroughly delightful tale of the powerful friendship between Ben Chambers and his robot friend, Tang.
Ben is a man lacking ambition. He is a stay-at-home husband, living off his inheritance, with little self-respect and stuck in the same life day-in and day-out. His career-driven wife wakes him one morning to tell him that there is a rusty old robot in their garden. This is a time where Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) is commonplace in households, with Androids and robots carrying out typical day-to-day activities. The robot is able to say very little, however he confirms to Ben that his name is Tang. Ben quickly realises that Tang is broken and his little body slowly fading.
Ben cannot bring himself to put Tang on the scrapheap and, as such, we find ourselves following Ben and Tang as they set out on a trip around the globe, in their mission to find Tang’s creator and to fix his failing body.
I loved Tang, as I’m certain all readers have!! He can be particularly childlike at times, especially when having tantrums in an attempt to manipulate Ben and get his own way. However, Tang is also a very endearing little character, with his human mannerisms and loving nature. Ben finds himself not only acting as a friend to Tang, but also stepping in as both mother and father to the little robot.
Ben is a great character. He is a young(ish) married man with sufficient money to live off, without needing to get himelf a job. As such, we first meet him as a character who is unemployed and aimless, merely drifting through marriage and life. Throughout Ben’s travels, we see him expanding his horizons both mentally and phyiscally. We experience Ben’s voyage of self-discovery during which he comes to realise his own faults/shortfalls and the part he played in the failure of his marriage.
A Robot in the Garden is, for the most part, a humorous tale. It combines a few poignant events with a few truly hilarious takes. I particularly found the chapters involving the stray dog and Ben’s stay at the Hotel California, to be particularly funny (if not somewhat disturbing, re the latter story!).
On a more serious note, I was interested in the distinction that is made in the book between robots and Androids. The book describes a society which has become used to the servitude of Androids and raises some ethical questions/issues about the treatment of those Androids in general and, more specifically, limitations to their use (i.e. such as their intended use at Hotel California). Through knowing Tang, some of the characters re-assess their views towards AI’s and develop a more sympathetic outlook, viewing them almost as people, rather that merely objects.
The only possible criticism I can level at this book would be that I enjoyed it so much, I would have liked to read more. The stops they made on their journey were all quite short and I would have welcomed the chance to read a bit more about the places they visited.
I thoroughly enjoyed A Robot in the Garden. It’s quirky and clever and both funny and sad/poignant. This is a wonderful, heart-warming book with a great big dollop of humour, guaranteed to draw in the reader and hold their interest until the very last page. I would be happy to recommend this book to any readers out there in the blogosphere!
On a side note, I do think this book would probably make a fantastic film!
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