I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers
Published 2016 by Faber & Faber
My copy: Secondhand paperback
After the sudden loss of his wife, Michael Turner moves to London to start again. Living on a quiet street in Hampstead, he develops a close bond with the Nelson family next door: Josh, Samantha and their two young daughters.
The friendship at first seems to offer the prospect of healing, but then a devastating event changes all their lives, and Michael finds himself bearing the burden of grief and a terrible secret.
From the opening line of this novel, you know that something very significant has happened on the leafy Hampstead street where the majority of the novel is set. Martin enters a house he thinks is empty – but is it? From this point on the book slowly – very slowly – builds up to us finding out exactly what happened inside the house Martin entered…
And it takes half of the novel for us to get there! In the meantime, we get lots of flashbacks to find out what has brought Martin back to London from his little cottage in Wales. His wife has died – so we find out a bit more about their relationship – and we also find out about the new London neighbours he has befriended. This all helps to set the scene, but as a reader I was just desperate to find out what actually happened in the house on that morning. The tension building up to this point in the book is almost unbearable, and the flashbacks can become a bit frustrating, but I did like the way the author plays with the reader.
Then finally we get to the big moment itself, which is truly devastating. But, as with all books that are leading up to a big reveal or twist, there is always the danger that the big moment itself will be a big anti-climax, and/or the book will then fizzle out. And the latter was definitely the case for me here. While the event itself wasn’t an anti-climax as it was dramatic and unexpected, it was however at this point in the book that I realised that I had everything invested in this big moment – but relatively little interest in any of the characters. The story is told in quite a detached way, so I found myself not really caring that much about the main protagonists, and I found myself skimming sections of the book as, ultimately, not really very much actually happens!
The book is billed as a thriller, but it definitely isn’t one. It is very slow moving and although the tension is cranked up in the first half it isn’t particularly thrilling. Instead the book is really a reflection on grief and how one event can have a knock-on effect that can have a devastating impact on many people. In itself this is quite interesting, but definitely not enough for an entire novel.
I felt a bit let down after finishing this novel, as I just expected a bit more from it. The ideas are definitely interesting and the tension is cleverly built up, but as a story there just isn’t really very much here. It felt as though there was too much reliance on the big reveal halfway through the book, but not enough around this one event to keep me going.
My rating: 5 out of 10