I Saw A Man is Owen Sheer’s breathtakingly beautiful story of death and grief. If you are currently suffering from grief or the overwhelming loss of hope, this novel is not for you. But for others, I Saw a Man is astounding.
How to review a novel like Owen Sheers’ I Saw A Man, a novel so superbly written but so unspeakably tragic? I found Sheers’ book very difficult to read, even as I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Writing this review, I want to recommend it to almost everyone because the prose is beautiful; the narrative heart-stopping; the overall impact, simply astounding. But I Saw A Man is not appropriate for depressed or despairing readers, and definitely should not be read by anyone who recently has lost someone dear.
I Saw A Man opens with a death. A young reporter has been killed while filming a documentary in Pakistan, and her grieving husband is trying to cope with his loss. Sheers tells the backstories of their courtship and marriage and Caroline’s career moves that lead to her tragedy. Then the novel turns to the present when Michael (a successful author until he is psychologically paralyzed by Caroline’s sudden demise) moves to London. There, Michael hopes to begin work again on his next book, something he has been avoiding for months.
Subletting a flat from one of Caroline’s colleagues, Michael restarts his latest project and soon befriends the neighbors. The young couple’s marriage is far from perfect, while their two daughters are precociously cute. Soon, Michael’s life entwines with the Nelson’s. And now, anything I might write will give away the plot! I was pleased to see that the book cover drops a hint or two but reveals little about the subsequent action. Those surprises are best discovered while one reads.
I can, however, reveal one particularly challenging facet of I Saw A Man. Midway through the novel, the reader meets the soldier responsible for Caroline’s death. With no idea that a group of civilian reporters was nearby, he fired from afar the drone strike that eradicated the conclave. And he is tormented by guilt. Sheers’s writing is at its very best when he shows how the soldier’s despair parallels Michael’s. Those passages are provocative, too, in that most of us haven’t thought much about the conundrums of drone warfare, in effect a process of assassination that resembles a joy-stick-driven computer game but that involves real death and destruction. Sheers’s depictions of the strike and its aftermath, both physically and psychologically, are intensely penetrating. I find myself mulling them over, again and again, wondering about the morality of this kind of anonymous long-distance warfare.
I Saw A Man is a multi-layered novel, one not easily forgotten. Many readers will be fascinated by its pages, but I want to reemphasize my initial caveat. No one who is troubled or tormented by grief should attempt to read this book. It strikes too close to home! Ann Ronald
Also available by Owen Sheers: The Green Hollow; Calon; The Gospel of Us; Safari; White Ravens; Resistance; The Dust Diaries; The Pink Mist; A Poet’s Guide to Britain; Skirrid Hill; The Blue Book; The Two Worlds of Charlie F; The Passion; The Water Diviners Tale; I Should Go Away.
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