‘I saw a man’ by Owen Sheers

Owen Sheers is one of the best writers working in Britain at the moment. As a poet, dramatist, playwright and novelist he is at the top of his form. There are few who can match him as a story teller. He is certainly the equal of Ian McEwan and in this book he shows some clear similarities in style. Perhaps, unusually he is the first person to become the writer in residence for the Welsh Rugby Union. Though this is not inappropriate for a man who played scrum half for Gwent County and, when a student, captained the Oxford University Modern Pentathlon team.

But why am I spending so much time talking about the author. The reason is simple. I think you should read his books especially either his first one “Resistance” or his most recent novel, this one, “I Saw A Man”. It is difficult to review this novel without giving too much away and spoiling the book for a future reader and hence I have padded this review with some autobiography and the hope that this and his clear credentials might tempt people to try the book.

This book has a number of interwoven tales where the protagonists deal with the issues of loss, grief, guilt, accidental tragedy and the hopes for redemption. The book can be read as a thriller with a mystery revealed in the first few pages which is then followed by a tense ride as the sequence of events is uncovered. The links between events become clear and there is great satisfaction in their denouement. I, like many other reviewers, read this book in one sitting it is so captivating. The links may not seem obvious, between a drone operative in Creech Air force base in Nevada and a young girl falling down stairs in her London home for example, but they are never contrived or stretched.

However, much more impressive than being an effective taut thriller it is also a wonderfully well written book about grief and guilt. He manages to write in a manner that brings the characters and their domestic circumstances to life. We can imagine them and empathize with them. Importantly we can see, and understand, the mistakes the characters make and perhaps this is where the novel is at its best; it lets us see and consider our own tendencies to self-deception.

10 thoughts on “‘I saw a man’ by Owen Sheers

  1. Resistance was my introduction to Sheers; I plan to read it again before too long. You know my thoughts on The Green Hollow. I followed that up with The Gospel of Us which didn’t match either of these two works. (Although in its original live performance guise I imagine it was much better.) I Saw a Man appears to attract marmite reviews. I’ll come to it with an open mind, encourgaed by your impressions 🙂

    1. I think the marmite reviews reflect the situation well. If you enjoy it then you really will. If it doesn’t grip you it may then be irked. I have only seen, not read ,The Gospel of Us but I did enjoy that. Fingers crossed you like ‘I saw a man’, it would only be a matter of time until you tried it anyway 🙂

  2. I never heard of the author but have discovered our library has this book. I will try it out. By the way, I think you introduced me to UnHerd which has proved very helpful on many occasions to sorting out my thoughts.

    1. Yes ‘unheard’ often proves to have good writers who provide a useful alternative viewpoint. It is nice not to just have the jangling extremes but rather a considered middle view

    2. Hopefully you will enjoy the book. Although as someone else pointed out it is rather like “marmite” – people either really like it or really don’t. There is rarely a lukewarm opinion. I’ll be keen to hear what you think

  3. FInished reading the book last night. I didn’t read it in one sitting, but over several days and let the characters seep in. It was an adult book in the best sense, nearly wholly dependent on character with a hint of plot thrown in to allow the characters to be developed. I got pretty tired of metafiction in the 1970’s, but found that his use of the narrator and the embedded fiction about fiction very well done. I never could really empathize with Michael’s decision to leave the house with Lucy dead on the floor. I didn’t find it fit within my understanding to that point of his character. The exploration of guilt, remorse, grief and attempts at reconciliation were handled as adults handle them–messily and in contradictory ways. Thanks for the title. I had never heard of him.

    1. I share that concern that it didn’t seem to fit; that he’d leave Lucy there. This was discordant with my feelings of the character as well. However, once having done so the other aspects were more believable. Glad you thought it was worth reading. It is my thank you for introducing me to Wendell Berry.

      1. Have you ever seen either Plough or The Sun, both small magazines. Plough is put out by a Bruderhof community in New York State as a quarterly. It is one of the most thoughtful magazines I read. The most recent issue explored economics. The Sun is just good writing. I suspect both may be on-line.

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