The novel is set on the day of the anti-Iraq war protests across central London (Saturday, February 15th 2003) and terrorism is on everybody’s mind. When the celebrated neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne, unusually wakes up in the middle of the night he can’t help but wonder whether there was a reason behind it. The day that follows is packed out with such detail that it is as though you are with Henry as he drives in his plush Mercedes across the crowded streets. The detail in which McEwan writes about Perowne’s craft, neurosurgery, is almost breathtakingly precise and detailed, as though he was writing a recipe for the correct procedure to remove blood clots. There are moments of gore, shock, warmth and in-between is the mundane every day activities which reassure that this could very well be any Saturday of any week.
'A man who attempts to ease the miseries of failing minds by repairing brains is bound to respect the material world, its limits, and what it can sustain – consciousness, no less. It isn’t an article of faith with him, he knows it for a quotidian fact, the mind is what the brain, mere matter, performs. If that’s worthy of awe, it also deserves curiosity; the actual, not the magical, should be the challenge.'