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Saturday is a novel set within a single day in February 2003. Henry Perowne is a contented man--a successful neurosurgeon, happily married to a newspaper lawyer, and enjoying good relations with his children, who are young adults. What troubles him is the state of the world--the impending war against Iraq, and a general darkening and gathering pessimism since the New York and Washington attacks two years before. On this particular Saturday morning, Perowne makes his way to his usual squash game with his anaesthetist, trying ...

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Apr 9, 2008

Not compelling

This book lacks narrative force. I was so numbed by the protagonist's self-absorbed (meandering) activities on this Saturday that I simply gave up (on circa page 180--during his preparation of the fish stew). Thus, I was (mercifully?) spared whatever horrible events would make up the book's climax. It is not a compelling work...

T. M. Teale

Nov 2, 2007

Worthy to be called literary art

Every reader ought to care that McEwan is a master of psychological detail, a worthy successor of Henry James and Virginia Woolf. Of course a novel cannot exist by the merit of its virtuosity alone, and so, I was reading for plot and scene development. From the beginning, I could sense that the main character, Henry Perowne, was a kind of Everyman/Everywoman, and that, like him, we are all neurosurgeons in some way. The novel seems to be a grand metaphor; it works on the theme that if we want to solve today's primary global problem of violence, we've got to become better at diagnosing the impending doom, and then perform surgery more efficiently. And if we could become more skilled at this, then the Saddam Husseins of the world could find healing; and there would be fewer wars because we, the neurosurgeons, have become better people--or some such form of metaphor. It is clear to me that McEwan sees young people as playing a huge role in bringing enlightenment to the 50-somethings who have caused the world's problems: Perowne's son and daughter open his eyes to so much.
In the first fifty to a hundred pages, I found myself arguing with McEwan: Do people like Baxter really think this way? Could the author have done more with the character Rosalind? But what kept me reading, what makes Saturday un-putdown-able, was the tension the author creates. More than that, when I realized that McEwan was willing to investigate anything, give psychological details on anyone, I was frightened. The tension was excruciating. This author is willing to go anywhere! I absolutely had to find out what happened next. Then, I realized that fiction, like life, is rather simple, ordinary. Not everything explodes with a bang. Life, like fiction, can bring reflection.


Oct 2, 2007

Terror and Pleasure

Ian McEwan's novel Saturday is purposely set on the day of London's massive demonstration against the impending attack on Iraq. The protagonist Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon, inadventently scrapes the car of a hood named Baxter after illegally crossing a police barricade. Baxter and his thugs retaliate against an imagined humiliation by breaking into Perowne's house and threatening his wife with a knife. Perowne recalls Baxter as a patient diagnosed with Huntington's. He forces his daughter to strip, then to recite one of her poems, but her grandfather proffers instead Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," where "ignorant armies clash by night."

The novel ends equivocally. The family's opposition to Baxter and his gang is paradigmatic, but how exactly to read it? The expelling of foreign invaders? The necessity of force when confronted by force? The depredations of monsters? As I was reading the novel, a series of coordinated bomb attacks in the Tube and on a double-decker bus in London occurred. McEwan's novel seemed eerily prescient. By compressing his narrative into a single day and filtered through a single consciousness, the author describes well longstanding familial bonds, the eroticism of a middle-aged couple, parent-child tensions. The sensuous appreciation of the world is abundantly rich. McEwan also uses medicine and science to reconfigure the novel's early assumptions; science questions the notion of free will, because the erosion of diseases like Huntington's consigns patients like Baxter to a kind of deterministic fate. And knives are a symbol double in meaning: Perowne's scalpel meant to heal, Baxter's to maim and kill: those twin impulses alive and well in our world.

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