How do you even begin to describe the way that Owen Sheers writes? Do you say that he is a poet, and that his words cascade like a stream down the mountainside? Do you say that he is a consummate storyteller, fingering his harp, as the bards of old, so that you have no choice but to listen? Do you say that his stories have the force of legend, of myth, telling you something fundamental about your own humanity?
Or do you just say to people that you should read this book? Do you just say that reading it is a pleasure?
So what is “I Saw a Man” about? It is about grief. It is about bereavement. It is about adapting. It is about survival. It is about men coping with trauma. And although the subject is a difficult one, it is a joy to read. Why is that? It is because Owen Sheers writes with a deep compassion for all his characters. It is because this book is deeply human. It is because you will come to care about all of them – Michael and Samantha and Josh and Caroline and Rachel and Lucy and Daniel who are at the centre of the tale.
It does not give anything away to tell you that Caroline is a journalist who is killed by a drone on the Pakistan/Afghan border, nor that there is another death as the result of a domestic accident. The whole story revolves around how everyone else copes with this, and especially Michael as the husband of Caroline and the neighbour of the Nelson family, who suffer the second bereavement.
To say anything more would spoil the story, because there are things that happen that you will not expect, and there are consequences on which the story hinges.. It is a story told in the interaction of the lives and deaths, as they occur. From the start, you will know that something dreadful is going to happen, or has happened, and then you find out in a sort of flashback that Caroline has been killed by an American drone, operating along the Pakistani/Afghan border and controlled from the USA. It is Michael who is the link between this and the house on Hampstead Heath where the story starts, and where the second death takes place. And it is Michael who is the heart of the story.
This is a story about the human soul. It is a story about how we are not perfect. It is a story about how we try to cope. It is a story about how we must live with the results of our stupidities, our emotions, our hopes and our fears, and how we come through the other side because that is what we do, because we have no choice. It is a story that tells how we adapt, not necessarily to tell the truth but to survive the consequences of our actions.
It is a story of great compassion, of deep understanding, of astonishing humanity. It is a story that is well-worth reading.
One final thing, Coed y Bryn, the cottage where Michael and Caroline have their home in Wales, means Mountain Wood.