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by Ian McEwan

Very earnest and sombre book, full of pondering about the meaning of 9/11.

We meet Henry whose life seems fulfilled and under control, yet who seems to be on the point of an emotional crisis. He is suddenly confronted by disorder, chaos and hatred and for a tense and terrifying few hours his world teeters on the edge of destruction. The philosophical musings that have preoccupied him go out the window. Ultimately though, the experience feeds into his angst and his and the novel's resolution is surprising.

Henry is a tolerable enough character and we get to know him quite well - we spend enough time in his thoughts. Every aspect of this fateful Saturday is examined interminably: every detail of his early morning sleepless wandering about his house; every street, every building, every kerb stone on his journey to a squash match; there are long remembrances of his wife and two children; he makes generalisations about life from detailed descriptions of his neurosurgery practice; he asks lots of anxious questions about the condition of a world full of terrorists and warrior heads of state.

Henry is flawed, vulnerable and humane in every day life but in the operating theatre he is god-like. He drills into people's brains and cuts them about with fearless authority. In that role he knows what's wrong and he knows how to fix it - with actions which are, on the face of it, brutal. Is there not some overlap, however small, between his mind and that of a terrorist?

The rest of his family remain shadowy, idealised and unsatisfactory.

One bad guy brightens things up a lot. He is frightening and repulsive, yet you do feel for him. Whilst he is at the centre of the action, the book becomes gripping and compelling.

As for the rest of it - would you enjoy wading through the mud of the Thames at low tide in search of a very small box of sugar free, fat free, dairy free, wheat free, chocolate free, mildly comforting treats (made in a factory which processes nuts)? You might enjoy this if your answer is yes.

Suggested by Jeronimo, Bristol

Tagged with: irritating tedious



Don't write McEwan off because of this book. He is a good writer but this is a bad book.
Jeronimo, Bristol
Our library book group recently read this book and all of us to a man hated it! Because it was slow, too detailed and tedious. We did not find the events believable and we did not like or care about the characters. I had to resort to listening to it on a talking book rather than reading it myself just to get through it. Having never read any McEwan before it lead us to wonder why he receives such plaudits.

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