From the pen of a master-the #1 bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author of Atonement-comes an astonishing novel that captures the fine balance of happiness and the unforeseen threats that can destroy it. A brilliant, thrilling page-turner that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Saturday is a masterful 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. Henry wakes to the comfort of his large home in central London on this, his day off. He is as at ease here as he is in the operating room. Outside the hospital, the world is not so easy or predictable. There is an 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's day moves through the ordinary to the extraordinary. After an unusual sighting in the early morning sky, he makes his way to his regular 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 a small-time thug. To Perowne's professional eye, something appears to be profoundly wrong with this young man, who in turn believes the surgeon has humiliated him-with savage consequences that will lead Henry Perowne to deploy all his skills to keep his family alive.
It all starts to come apart for him before daybreak on Saturday morning when, for a reason he cannot explain, Henry finds himself standing in front of his bedroom window just as a flaming airplane streaks across the sky on its way to an emergency Heathrow landing. Because his first thoughts are of terrorism rather than mechanical failure, the sight reminds Henry how very different the post-9/11 world is from the world in which he raised his children and established his career.
Later, as he leaves the house to begin his day off, Henry has to make his way past thousands of protesters who are there to protest Britain’s decision to join the U.S. in its fast-approaching war against Iraq. When he finds a policeman willing to let him save time by driving across a cordoned off section of road, Henry jumps at the chance – only to drive right into a minor fender-bender that will haunt him for the rest of his life. The other driver, whom Henry is about to meet for the first time, will figure prominently in the book’s climax.
Saturday, though, is not a plot-driven book. McEwan has, instead, invited his readers to spend a day inside the head of his main character, Henry Perowne. Perowne is a relatively conservative man, much to the dismay, at times, of his daughter. The two, for instance, vehemently disagree on the necessity and morality of the upcoming war with Iraq, even to the point of an argument that ends with her in tears. We are witness to the strong bond between Henry and his son, one centered on their mutual love of American jazz, and to the pride that Henry takes in his wife’s professional successes.
But McEwan offers more than that. We are given a glimpse into the mindset of a man who, now that he has made it, is finally beginning to wonder what drives the people he encounters at home, at the hospital, and during his leisure time. Henry is a solitary man, dependent on no one, but he is about to find how unprepared he is when it comes to having the skills and instincts sometimes required if one is to survive in the real world, a world in which there is always someone willing to take what they want if one is too weak to stop them.
Ian McEwan is a master and a craftsman - in the positive sense, that he has constructed a novel here, layer by layer, which very subtly, almost stealthily, immerses the reader into the world he has created for them. It is a world, a lifestyle, and a family, which I will long remember.
Rated at: 5.0
After a little thought, I think I know why this book has polarised opinion so much. It is written by, about, and for the middle-aged male. I am one of those. (It might appeal to women as well, but I can only speak for myself.)
If you have ever felt jealous of (but at the same time admiring) the achievements of your children and their generation, while at the same time resenting (but taking pride in) the careers of your parents or parents-in-law and their generation, you will find something in Ian McEwan's book that speaks to you. If you feel youthful whilst fearing the onset of senility, if you have a Saturday routine that has come to define your week, if you are between 42 and 52, you will understand Henry Perowne.
Even if you are not part of the obvious audience for this book, put aside your concerns about the obviously contrived elements (all the action taking place on one day or the power of Dover Beach to turn the tide of an armed burglary) and enjoy the beautifully constructed prose and characterisation. (And, if you are younger than 42, anticipate your future.)
“He steps under the shower, a forceful cascade pumped down from the third floor. When this civilization falls, when the Romans, whoever they are this time round, have finally left and the new dark ages begin, this will be one of the first luxuries to go. The old folk crouching by their peat fires will tell their disbelieving grandchildren of standing naked mid-winter under jet streams of hot clean water, of lozenges of scented soaps and of viscous amber and vermilion liquids they rubbed into their hair to make it glossy and more voluminous than it really was, and of thick white towels as big as togas, waiting on warming racks.”
The other is that I'm really disturbed that Perowne literally saw inside his future wife's head before he dated her.
This novel is beautifully structured and of course beautifully written. The women in this novel are rather lightly sketched (Henry's wife Rosalind is practically a cipher), but Henry, his father-in-law John, and especially his son Theo are marvelous. Favorite scene in recent novel: There is a particularly beautiful scene in this novel, told in flashback, with Henry and his mother in a swimming pool, which tapped into my complex feelings about my own aging mother.
Read this book if you'd like to spend a Saturday with an interesting, intelligent, loving, flawed middle-aged man in the post 9/11 world.
Don't get me wrong McEwan writes beautifully crafted and well researched, perhaps overly so, prose and initially this captivated me and made me forgive the sloth-like pace of the story but in the end this began to rather grate on me.
The Perowne family were just too perfect, too successful they ended up seeming smug and patronising and I had great difficulty caring too much what happened to any of them. The idea that a madman, even a mentally sick one, could be dissuaded from committing a heinous crime by reciting poetry to him was frankly laughable.
In the end I felt that the story went nowhere and was just too contrived. You could just imagine the author placing his own wishes and desires onto his imaginary children as if somehow his own dissatisfied him and had not lived up to his ideals
Additionally, I found it extremely difficult to empathise with Perowne or his family - the talented poet daughter, talented jazz musician son, and talented lawyer (journalist?) wife - I like characters with flaws. I'm sure others will be able to analyse this better, but I'll bet that a writer of McEwan's calibre had a reason for making the characters rather difficult to like. The part where he visits his mother is quite touching, and there are some great lines like where Perowne is speculating about what his daughter's boyfriend will be like, and a line near the end that made me think of Saddam Hussein: "They'll all be diminished by whipping a man on his way to hell" - suck on that, TB and GWB.
The most rewarding moment of the book for me was at the end when Matthew Arnold's lovely poem Dover Beach is reprinted. The last verse of this poem seems to hint at the overall message of the book, which appeased me some. I may have enjoyed this book more if I'd read it on a long flight or in any other confined space, and I do think the writing merits a second read at a later date to see if I find it any more enjoyable, but at this time, I have to say that Saturday was not for me.
I found the book a bit slow -- only mildly intersting -- as I wondered if I would be able to identify with Henry and his family enough to really get into the story. But it didn't take long until I was completey drawn in by the strong writing and character development. This is a very good book.
The book was a gift from a close friend, thus I was willing to give the author more of an opportunity. In the end, I was not disappointed.
Definitely, Saturday is not your average story.
McEwan's story dips into many topics: politics, literature, music, war, surgery, family relationships, aging, and morality. It was a thought-provoking story that I enjoyed, especially the ending, where the topic of morality played a part. However, it is McEwan's beautiful prose that is the real draw for me: his words pour onto the paper like honey. But why do I always think he writes with the Booker prize in mind?
There was a lot of interesting stuff in here, lots of musing about life in London after 9/11 and before the war in Iraq, the uncertainty, the tension, the threats everywhere. I liked the way McEwan explored the interplay between the personal and the political. I liked the way that after a long, slow build-up, things moved very fast at the end.
What I didn't like so much was that the entire novel was set in a single day and McEwan was utterly faithful to the tedium of the average person's day, describing everything in equal detail, the mundane and the serious. When the mundane stuff was accompanied by thought-provoking musing on the nature of contemporary London life, it was fine. When it wasn't, it was pretty unbearable. The long description of a game of squash was one of the most boring passages I have ever read (well, OK, skimmed).
The ending was great, though, and overall I would recommend this book - not whole-heartedly as I would with Atonement, but I'd recommend it nonetheless.
However, I felt the overall story was disappointing and I couldn't identify with the characters. They seemed somehow lacking in depth or dimension. Besides, he's done the 'manipulative psycho infiltrates decent family' thing before in his much better novel 'Enduring Love'.
So, full marks for the writing, and strong but not top marks for everything else!
It isn't written in the first person, but what we are given are what the central character sees, hears and thinks over the course of one day. That character is a neurosurgeon, living an enviable life with his beautiful clever wife, and beautiful, clever, talented children. I have no objections to lead characters who I don't particularly like, but this man is smug and pompous, and what he thinks of as his humanity struck me as more self-satisfaction.
There is a passage where he remembers his literary education through his daughter, where he thinks about Russian realists and magic realism, which I feel may be key to understanding the author's intention with this book., but for all it is well-written, it largely fails on a human level.
There were only a few sections where I felt engaged by it, the description of how he met his wife, and the part where he visits his mother in a care home. The rest of the time, I was wishing something truly awful would happen to this man and his wonderful family!
The novel is a stream-of-consciousness meditation on how someone with extreme privilege sees the world post-9/11. As such it is sometimes hard to relate to the protagonist, an overly analytical neurosurgeon, who at one point thinks "He has a right now and then- everyone has it- not to be disturbed by world events, or even street events." The viewpoint of being an observer to historical global events, and having a responsibility to study and attempt to understand one's place in them, is a familiar one for me, however. I do watch most of the world's tragic events from a window of seeming safety, although the novel deftly shows the vulnerability of that position.
On the negative side, as with many of his books McEwan sets up a dramatic situation and allows it to fizzle out in a rather unconvincing manner. I enjoyed this book for the standard of the prose, rather than the direction it was heading.
During the course of Saturday we learn a lot about Henry and his family and see a series of events unfold with an exciting denouement at the end.
It wasn't an easy read - I needed to concentrate, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to read some more Ian Mcewan novels
Location aside parts of it *did* drag at times. The squash playing episode being one. Also the ending was terribly contrived and really one would have expected slightly better from an author with the reputation of McEwan. However as a non-threatening, non-challenging, easy read it wasn't too bad.