London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne plans his Saturday off with the usual full schedule and a mind brimming with thoughts, a now-familiar internal dialog triggered by the events of 9/11, the incipient war with Iraq and a massive anti-war demonstration taking place that day to protest Bush's potential attack on Iraq: "Saturdays he's accustomed to being thoughtlessly content..."
However, this particular Saturday will prove the exception, suddenly exposing the quality of this man's life and the way unexpected violence can shake even the most solid foundations. A moral, conscientious man, Perowne's inner musing is rendered more complex by current events, though he is perpetually engaged with his patients and family - albeit recently with a sharper edge, a poignancy, a nod to the random destruction that has become part of the new world order.
A minor accident triggers a chain of events, blindsiding Perowne, who is shocked by his own lack of foresight and inability to act in a moment of danger. This one day becomes a metaphor for the violence that has so recently stunned the world and left it shaken. Like a country attacked on a bright New York day, Perowne, and by extension his family, are briefly assaulted then left to deal with the repercussions of random violence.
"Questions of misinterpretations are not often resolved." It is this manner of thought that Perowne grapples with as his well-trained, educated brain screams danger, but the acculturated man is unable to adapt to quickly changing circumstances. Facing imminent danger to himself and to his family, Perowne cannot make his precise mind work with its usual efficiency, his mental calculations serving instead as stumbling blocks for extricating the family from a volatile situation.
McEwan writes with the precision of his surgeon protagonist, the novel as brilliantly structured as Perowne's mind. In a world gone mad with terror and the quest for a semblance of its former identity, Perowne creates an island of objectivity: the thinking, civilized man recreating a sane world, though one forever altered by circumstances. The real test is in the aftermath, how one moves on, whether left helpless and raging or refusing to concede those small fragments of integrity that must be repaired, forever scarred with a hairline crack.