A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install

This exceptionally charming novel addresses human relationships by way of a one-of-a-kind robot.

robot in the garden

Deborah Install’s first novel, A Robot in the Garden, is a delightful romp and an emotional journey, both hilarious and poignant.

Ben is idle, unemployed, still living in his childhood home in a small town in England, and grieving his parents’ death. He is a constant source of frustration to his wife, Amy. When a robot appears in their back garden, Amy is exasperated, as usual: she tells Ben to get rid of it. Ben is intrigued. The robot, Tang, is decrepit but apparently well-made, and has more personality than the androids the neighbors keep around to do laundry and house chores. Tang is also obstinate, willful and possibly broken beyond repair, but Ben suspects that there is something special about this creature. Together they undertake a riotous expedition, seeking a fix for Tang–and perhaps for Ben as well. On the way, the odd pair encounters bizarre situations, including android sex workers and a radioactive wiener dog, and make new friends. Mulish but endearing, Tang throws tantrums and wins Ben’s heart, and stirs him to reexamine his relationships with the people in his life.

Both Ben and Tang are well-developed, imperfect but lovable characters, and Install has an expert ear for tone and mood. Her dialogue is masterful–Tang’s singular voice develops throughout the novel as he does, and the silliness of this eccentric story provides a refreshing counterpoint to sentimentality. A Robot in the Garden is zany and heartfelt, endlessly funny and often absurd, but speaks directly to the central challenges of the human experience.

This review originally ran as a *starred review* in the May 20, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish news.

Rating: 8 Premium seats.

2 Responses

  1. […] but realistic: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Change; A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles; A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install (I love the name ‘Install’ for the author of a robot book!); and The […]

  2. […] draws her empathy, although she is slower to treat Klara like a real person. I’m reminded of The Robot in the Garden, a very different book but one that also addresses questions of humanity via nonhuman characters. […]

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