A Robot in the Garden, by Deborah Install, is about an unlikely friendship between a rudderless man called Ben, whose wife is frustrated by his lack of direction, and a cranky robot named Tang, who will not do as he is told. Ben determines to find someone who can mend the little machine and in the process comes to realise that he too requires adjustment. This is their story. It involves an around the world adventure, the importance of communication, and the value of trust and love.
Since giving up his veterinary training, Ben has been unemployed. He lives with his wife Amy, a successful barrister, in the house left to Ben by his parents. Despite plans to redecorate, it remains much as it was throughout his childhood, a state that Amy would like to rectify if she could only get Ben to function.
One morning she disturbs Ben’s perusal of his newspaper to tell him that there is a robot in their garden. Sitting under a tree, watching horses in the field beyond, is a little mechanoid which looks as though it were put together in a scrapyard. It will not tell Ben where it has come from.
Amy wanted an android to help in the house and is not impressed when her husband, who had resisted her request, wishes to keep this apparent pile of junk. Irritated by his obstinacy, as she is with much of his behaviour, she stops talking to him and eventually moves out.
Ben barely registers her absence, distracted as he is by the concern he now feels for his little mechanical friend. Some of Amy’s words do linger however, including jibes about his failure to act on the occasional plans he proposes. Stung by the truth of this criticism he buys a backpack and embarks on a journey to find Tang’s creator.
In the best traditions of road trips this unlikely pairing discover as much about themselves as about each other along the way. Their adventures mingle humour with poignancy, encounters with the weird and the wonderful, as they criss-cross the globe in their quest.
The transient characters each add depth to a tale which moves along apace. The writing is imaginative, perceptive and eminently readable. I could empathise with both Ben and Amy as they tried to find their way in life, but it is Tang who stole my heart.
This is an original story which made me feel good without being cloying. It shows humanity at its best and its worst, but does so with the lightest of touches. Tang is a joy of a literary creation. I have no reservations about recommending this book to all.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Doubleday, via a Twitter competition.