Henry Perowne is a contented man — a successful neurosurgeon, happily married to a newspaper lawyer, and enjoying good relations with his children. Henry wakes to the comfort of his large home in central London on this, his day off. He is as at ease here as he is in the operating room. Outside the hospital, the world is not so easy or predictable. There is an impending war against Iraq, and a general darkening and gathering pessimism since the New York and Washington attacks two years before.
On this particular Saturday morning, Perowne’s day moves through the ordinary to the extraordinary. After an unusual sighting in the early morning sky, he makes his way to his regular squash game with his anaesthetist, trying to avoid the hundreds of thousands of marchers filling the streets of London, protesting against the war. A minor accident in his car brings him into a confrontation with a small-time thug. To Perowne’s professional eye, something appears to be profoundly wrong with this young man, who in turn believes the surgeon has humiliated him — with savage consequences that will lead Henry Perowne to deploy all his skills to keep his family alive.
I have mixed feelings about this novel. At times I thought the amount of detail is great however some of the sums of the one-star review this novel up perfectly at the same time! Particularly the ones that went into great detail, hence the mocking of this novel in terms of how it is written in excruciating detail that was difficult to follow at times because it is boring listening to the smallest mundane details.
Henry Perowne judges all of the protestors as being uninformed about the true nature of Saddam’s regime, all due to speaking with ONE person he spoke with who were tortured there. It is a very clumsy attempt to give the character’s opinion in this case.
Perowne’s character is a person with Western values which is clear to see this is really McEwan voicing his own opinions with the amount of boring detail in this rather than a character who simply comes down on one well-defined side of an issue. To me, it is seen as a busy neurosurgeon who has no time to search out other opinions or else truly feels that war is the right move and that it is as his leaders say, for humanitarian reasons.
Later on, we see a different view from Daisy, in the form of an argument in the kitchen. There is a bet where Perowne says that Iraq will be flowering in freedom in five years and Daisy says it will be a mess. I found it interesting that the opposing view is personified by a very young person, implying immaturity, youthful idealism and so on.
The car crash scene with the tough guy was simply farcical. Where the brain surgeon has to think fast, and recognises some horrible debilitating disease in his assailant, who, it turns out, is self-conscious about it.
The talented children I found very annoying: the boy plays the blues from the comfort of his London mansion and the girl is a poet. Some lines of her poetry that McEwan proudly mentions are “watermarks of ecstasy”. Watermarks of ecstasy? She won the Newdigate prize for it. Does McEwan consider that good poetry? The title of her collection is, “My Saucy Bark.” What? It is a bark as in boat but the other definitions work just as well.
One quote I did enjoy, however: “Fiction is too humanly flawed, too sprawling and hit-and-miss to inspire uncomplicated wonder at the magnificence of human ingenuity, of the impossible dazzling achieved. Perhaps only music has such purity.”
Overall, this was a densely written book that took a bit of patience. I enjoyed it at times and found it tedious at others. Although it was well written, the prose was a bit pretentious and the main character’s stream of consciousness narrative could be so boring. At times the family at the center of the story was a little too perfect to believe. The plot and details stretched far too long; you could read from page 2, skip 30 pages and not much has changed.