OneMansView, April 21, 2009
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The day that won’t end (3.5 *s)
Henry Perowne, head of neurosurgery at a London hospital, often has full days, but his weekend Saturday, Feb 15, 2003, is a day unlike any he has ever had. It is the day when the million-people demonstration against the impending Iraqi bombing is to occur, but it is the fiery crash of what appears to be an airliner that Henry observes in the distance from the bedroom window of his townhome in central London in the wee hours of the morning that draws on barely submerged fears of terrorism in this post 9/11 world and sets a tone of anxiety for the remainder of the day.
His planned day was already full: the squash match with a colleague, a potentially upsetting visit with his mother at a home for those affected by dementia; and shopping for the dinner that he is going to prepare for a family reunion that evening. But the unexpected and disturbing continue to intrude. He avoids a beating at the hands of some London street toughs after being involved in a car accident with them only by throwing the leader off track by observing that he is in the late stages of a neurological disease; not too surprisingly, his subsequent squash match becomes unusually testy; and he nearly misses the new musical creation of his son’s band at a music venue due to the increased traffic from the march. Not only does Henry have experience overload on this Saturday, but in these various situations the reader is privy to a constant stream of Henry’s descriptions of what is unfolding but also what he is thinking and what he thinks those around him are thinking.
Although Henry takes center stage for virtually the entire book, and despite his remarkable competency as a neurosurgeon, he is a rather ambiguous fellow, though likeable. He ponders much: life’s meanings, the existence of God, biological destiny, and the like. And it all seems to leave him rather uncertain, more than might be expected from such an accomplished person. His relationship with his grown children is perhaps a reflection of his inability to deal with a non-rational world. His daughter Daisy, a young poet and intriguing character, is adept at finding cracks in his understandings, which she attempts to address by amusingly giving her father assigned reading.
The reader can easily suffer from overload with this book, not just from the sequence of events, but also from Henry’s nonstop ruminations. In addition, just when one might think that the day is going to wind down, it continues in bizarre fashion. Henry’s chance encounter with the London punks comes back to haunt him and his family rather disturbingly that evening. Though the last chapters seem to be just more piling on an already filled to capacity day, in them some understandings and lessening of antagonisms do occur.
It should be mentioned that while the author’s lengthy descriptions of Henry’s very complex medical procedures may be understood by a few, most readers will undoubtedly be only too happy to get past them. This book really comes down to whether Henry’s numerous, repetitious and tentative insights, though not uninteresting, outweigh the tediousness of his being involved in enough situations for most individuals’ weeks.