A day in the life of a London neurosurgeon—not much happens, yet everything is rich with incident. Henry Perowne’s incessant interior monologue constantly evaluates, negotiating between the clarity and desirability of his private world and the increasingly frightening outer one. Throughout, Henry’s musings weave together aging, city/brain parallels, arguments with his poet daughter about the value of literature. Being a reductionist, preferring verifiable fact, he has no use for stories. In a world like this, “why make things up?”

The attempt to fit our jumble of thoughts with what really happens on a particular day is familiar territory. What makes McEwan’s version compelling is how his forged, forward-moving prose unites a resonant moment of tranquility with uncertainty—a foreboding that it will disappear and become a quickly receding dream.