Henry Perowne undergoes a long, stressful day on Saturday, February 15th, 2003–the day of the giant anti-Iraq war march in London. Perowne is a middle-aged neurosurgeon, happily married to Rosalind, a lawyer, and father of Theo, a rising blues musician, and Daisy, a newly published poet living in Paris.
His day begins very early when he sees a flaming plane in the sky (not an attack but an engine fire); a morning drive turns nasty when his car is sideswiped by a thug known as Baxter; his normally friendly squash match becomes a grudge match; his weekly visit to his senile mother and Theo’s recital provide interludes; a family reunion with Daisy and his father-in-law is ruined when Baxter invades his home; and finally, he is called out to perform an emergency operation.
McEwen weaves together the trivial and weighty strands of Perowne’s life, all against the backdrop of the peace march. Perowne himself has no direct contact with the march, and is ambivalent about it, having treated Iraqis who were tortured by Saddam, but not trusting the motives of those promoting the war.
Beautifully written, this is an acute psychological study. Thoughtful but not tortured, loved by his family, largely at peace with himself, Perowne is a decent man, coping with the stresses of an eventful day.