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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Saturday by Ian McEwan

I thought a fat book about just one day couldn’t sustain my interest – but it did. Saturday is situated in one time and one place. It’s a date between the fall of the twin towers and now (after three years of occupation in Iraq). Saturday is situated in a time when a million people thought a demo would stop a war. The place is London; it's Saturday 15 February 2003. It's a day in the life of upper middle-class, neurosurgeon Henry Perowne.

I like reading Ian McEwan, he makes me uncomfortable. I can’t settle down. I want Saturday to be about tranquillity (like weekday London, quiet and peaceful at the weekend) but it’s about violence. The book starts with a normally quiet and sleepy early morning punctuated with a burning plane in the sky. What should Henry do? Is it important enough to do anything? This is followed by the quiet streets disturbed by the distant demo, the gangsters in their flashy car, the squash game, surgery, the fight, the resurrection. Phew! I love the waiting, tasting the context, feeling the anticipation and then experiencing the rush and bursts of actions.

I didn’t like Henry Perowne – but I like books which challenge my romantic assumption that the protagonist should be my fantasy best friend. I don’t know why the squash game goes on for so long. Henry has two children, one of whom is a brilliant poet and the other an awesome jazz musician – that’s just too fantastical, and too Hamstead.

I enjoyed McEwan’s language and the page-turning suspense – a good story well told. But most of all I liked the challenge of Saturday, the discomfort of it, it made me question my middle-class self. Would I phone the police about a burning plane? Would I save a dying man who had harmed my family? Did I do anything to stop the Iraq war? The answer’s not brain surgery!


Blogger Vic_Stirling said...

For the first 50 pages or so 'Saturday' took a real grip of me. A sense of danger lurked near a well-off neurosurgeon who happened to wake up early that morning and stand at his window looking out over the square outside his house as a plane flew by with it's tail on fire. Perowne was looking at the London he knew and thinking about a world that seemed to be growing away from him. This is what I think McEwan does really well. He takes a secure setting, the bedroom, a sanctuary for most people and he introduces danger that is described as distant but feels very near.

Like 'Blooked' I didn't really like Henry Perowne. It is true though that the things he didn't do made me start questionning my laziness and sluggish acceptance of what was going on around me. I like that. Books that challenge our status quo.

Unfortunately though I soon lost that sense of urgency. Every mention of his wife and those bloody genius kids made me feel less and less connected with the direction of the plot. The wife's father, the children and the wife just didn't seem to work. Like necessary characters but not really thought out. I shouted out with irritation when Perowne went to operate on Baxter, the person who had threatened the thing we hear is so important to him; his family. He would never have been able to perform surgery, especially after sloshing his way through quite a few glasses of champagne and red wine.

Since reading it people have asked me if I enjoyed it and I find myself stumped for an answer. On one hand the prose and the suspense is excellent. I don't question McEwan's status as one of the best writers of our time, just that the book seemed to disengage with me or I with it. I have read other novels by McEwan and they had me gripped from beginning to end. I just felt really frustrated by the end of 'Saturday' and re-read the first 50 pages to remind myself that I had once been gripped. Vic.

11:50 AM

Blogger Sheffield SJ said...

mmmm...maybe it is a great book in some way because it has managed to rile me more and more since reading it, largely through Perowne's boring boring navel gazing and impending mid-life crisis.

I'm not too proud to say, I do want my hero to be my fantasy best friend/lover/sister/alter-ego and nothing more. I want romance, or fighting or post-modern edginess. I really want to care, I want to be interested, I want to be swept along...I liked Atonement - that was good.

When I want to feel challenged I can read a real book about real people, or a newspaper - I already know the world is crap and confusing - that's not what I'm looking for here, and if it were, it would be from someone a bit more rounded than Henry Perowne. How righteous and self-conscious is he?

Oh and the convoluted plot...Oh god, guess what, Baxter's back, or god, guess what, the daughter's pregnant - to an Italian no less - oh god, only poetry can save the day because this two dimensional character is mentally ill. Thank goodness after the long boring details of a brain operation (did anyone else just skip all the long brain words?) that he has his long-suffering and oh so attentive wife to slip into bed with...bless.

7:56 AM

Blogger helen m said...

I was surprised how much I liked Saturday. Yes Henry is smug, middle-class and angst-ridden (about little things), but he's real because he is. I forgave the plot cliches because I was carried along by the language, and I wanted to know what happened. I found Saturday to be one of those books that I wanted to get back to - I needed another dose of it, I needed to read it some more until I finished it. I did like Atonement better - better characterisation, multiple stories, beautiful language and a great ending.

I also love McEwan's short stories - especially Butterflies in In Between the Sheets. Pacey and edgey.

3:26 AM

Blogger Jane H said...

I read Saturday a while ago and really enjoyed it. I have enjoyed most of McEwan's books, esp the short stories, and thought this one, though with an over-the-top denouement, was gripping. I was fascinated by the precision with which he wrote about neurology, and was so taken with the fish stew he makes that I made it myself. The recipe is a good one!

8:10 AM


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