Saturday, February 15, 2003. Oddly - he's never done such a thing before - Henry Perowne wakes before dawn to find himself already in motion, drawn to the window of his bedroom. He is a contented man - a successful neurosurgeon, the devoted husband of Rosalind, a newspaper lawyer, and proud father of two grown-up children, one a promising poet and ...
Saturday, February 15, 2003. Oddly - he's never done such a thing before - Henry Perowne wakes before dawn to find himself already in motion, drawn to the window of his bedroom. He is a contented man - a successful neurosurgeon, the devoted husband of Rosalind, a newspaper lawyer, and proud father of two grown-up children, one a promising poet and the other a talented blues musician. What troubles Perowne as he stands at his window is the state of the world - the impending war against Iraq, and a general darkening and gathering pessimism since the attacks on New York and Washington eighteen months before. Later during this particular Saturday morning, Perowne makes his way to his weekly squash game with his anaesthetist, trying to avoid the hundreds of thousands of marchers filling the streets of London, protesting against the war. A minor accident in his car brings him into a confrontation with Baxter, a fidgety, aggressive, young man, on the edge of violence. To Perowne's professional eye, there appears to be something profoundly wrong with him. Towards the end of a day rich in incident, a Saturday filled with thoughts of war and poetry, of music, mortality and love, Baxter appears at the Perowne home during a family reunion - with extraordinary consequences. Ian McEwan's last novel, Atonement, was hailed as a masterpiece all over the world. Saturday shares its confident, graceful prose and its remarkable perceptiveness, but is perhaps even more dramatically compelling, showing how life can change in an instant, for better or for worse. It is the work of a writer at the very height of his powers.
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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...
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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