I Saw A Man
By: Owen Sheers
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
When journalist Caroline Marshall dies while on assignment in Pakistan, her grief-stricken husband, Michael, leaves their cottage in Wales and returns to London. He quickly develops a friendship with his neighbors, Josh and Samantha Nelson, and their two young daughters. Michael’s becoming close with the family marks the beginning of a long healing process.
But Michael’s period of recovery comes to an abrupt end when a terrible accident brings the burden of a shattering secret into his life. How will Michael bear the agonizing weight of guilt as he navigates persistent doubts on the path to attempted redemption? The answer, revealed poignantly in Sheers’ masterly prose, is eloquent, resonant, and completely unforgettable.
I first encountered Owen Sheers’ fiction a few years ago when I read Resistance (review). I’m not big on alternative history stories but I really loved that book, so I was quite excited to learn that he was coming out with a new novel last year. His poeticism shines through his writing so I was curious to read his contemporary title.
I Saw a Man was an tense and riveting read following Michael, his complicated relationship with his neighbours the Nelsons, as well as other characters who are connected to him in one way or the other. The narrative weaves through past and present, of Michael’s life before his wife’s death, how he got to know the Nelsons and became a part of his life. It goes back and forth, but the author’s writing makes it easy to follow and is quite compelling. There’s something evocative about what he’s writing, even if a character isn’t terribly rootable or even if the conflict is front and centre and it’s easy to see how difficult it is to make a stance somewhere. But there’s also the tension that really ramps up as the book goes along and you come across “the moment” that throws everything into a freefall; I could really feel the tension with every chapter and wondering how everything will play out at the end.
Not my gif
As I touched on, his writing and this story is quite evocative in that it touches on a number of themes and issues: the ongoing War on Terror and its casualties (civilian and military, directly or indirectly), of identity before and after tragedy, of forgiveness and redemption, of the writing process and some of the more abstract semantics that go into writing. The latter felt a tad bit pretentious, I think, but the rest flowed rather seamlessly with the story and these characters. The author does a wonderful job in really getting into their headspace and giving such a vivid glimpse of their past and their experiences and their feelings.
While I didn’t love it as much as Resistance, I still really enjoyed reading I Saw a Man. It slightly fizzled towards the end–I felt like a scene was missing, or the tension slightly drawn out a bit longer before the reveal was made (it felt like there was a jump somewhere)–but nonetheless the tension and the gradual unfolding of the characters and the plot was excellent.