A day in the life of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, a Saturday. In this exercise in perspective taking, McEwan guides the reader through the thoughts of a man from the time he wakes in the morning until he returns to bed at night. As Henry’s story unfolds second by second, the reader sees patterns emerge in his thought processes, which suggest that people have a significant influence, both on their own perspectives, and the outcomes of events. The author presses the reader to think about the complexity of the choices we make with each thought, each day.
In just one day, so many thoughts and events occur, that most people never realize they exist. With a breakdown of Henry’s ideas, memories, ruminations, McEwan poses the question: Is it possible that so much goes on in our minds, our lives, that we don’t think about how and why? As the text moves along, the reader makes definitive distinctions between two categories of thoughts Henry possesses, which lead to similar emotions: some are happy, positive and some sad, negative. Might this be true for the reader, too?
Through the lens of Henry, it is clear, a person can alter his own experiences of time or his sense of contentment with his associations. Henry’s day flies by as he moves from thought to activity and back. He can feel young and blissful when thinking about his wife, their love, and how lucky he is to have her, for example. He’s happy thinking of his son and daughter, music, snow. The reader sees what Henry fails to notice, that he can slow his perceptions of time, feel lonely and grim when he allows himself to obsess about negative events in the news or his mother’s Alzheimer’s. When a traumatic event takes place later in the day, time stands still. The reader fully grasps the effect of perception on the human mind.
What a day! McEwan creates a character and a story in which parallels are drawn to anyone who picks up this book. It is a statement about how so much of our lives are about choices. We are all left pondering more deeply the broader implications of our own thoughts and actions.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5