Saturday: A novel

by Ian McEwan

Hardcover, 2005

Call number




Nan A. Talese (2005), Edition: 1st, 289 pages


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.… (more)

Media reviews

L’acuité du regard et le sens du détail dévastateur. La profondeur de la réflexion politique autant que philosophique.
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Why review a work of fiction for The Indexer? Chiefly because of the author’s use of several very different taxonomies covering neurosurgery, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s chorea, blues music, squash and fish. The cumulative effect of this detail is to emphasize that, despite much
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knowledge, training, experience and wide interests, Perowne is powerless to control unexpected horrors. He uses his brain to heal other brains, but he cannot fathom the workings of the mind. The complex taxonomy of neurosurgery is used twice: at the opening of the book and again near the end. The author could have maintained the reader’s interest and suspense with more simple language, but his careful research has produced a precision that gives a far stronger sense of authenticity, not only to medical indexers who will have little trouble following the procedures. Again with Alzheimer’s disease: the detail contrasts with the lively mother and swimming champion whom Perowne remembers when he visits her in a nursing home. As for Huntington’s chorea, the taxonomy is essential to explain the unusual behaviour of the man who threatens him; he is not the average street thug. The squash game is, again, described moment by moment and gives insight to Perowne’s character: he is desperately keen to win, coming close to an acrimonious dispute with his anaesthetist with whom he has an ideal professional relationship. Even the fishmonger’s slab is described in taxonomic detail which leads to Perowne’s contemplation of moral matters such as whether fish feel pain.
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Overall, however, Saturday has the feel of a neoliberal polemic gone badly wrong; if Tony Blair—who makes a fleeting personal appearance in the book, oozing insincerity—were to appoint a committee to produce a "novel for our time," the result would surely be something like this.
[T]he lambent, stream-of-consciousness narrative that Mr. McEwan uses so adroitly in these pages. In fact, "Saturday" reads like an up-to-the-moment, post-9/11 variation on Woolf's classic 1925 novel "Mrs. Dalloway."
We have learned to expect the worst from Ian McEwan. Since his debut collection of stories, First Love, Last Rites, his fiction has always dwelt at the heart of places we hope never to find ourselves in: the vacancies left in lives by the kidnapped child or the lost lover; the mined no-man's-land
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that follows extreme violence or sexual obsession. His subject has always been damage and the way the darkest events in a life will drain the rest of love. For McEwan, happiness has rarely gone unpunished.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member SamSattler
Henry Perowne seems to have it all. The neurosurgeon has a satisfying medical practice, two successfully raised adult children whose mother he still finds sexy, his dream car, and he lives in 4,000 square foot home in the heart of London (imagine what that must be worth). Life has been good to him,
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and he has every reason to expect more of the same for a long time to come. Henry, however, is about to receive one of those reality checks that life sometimes throws at even the best-prepared of us.

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
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LibraryThing member deargreenplace
Set in one day, this book describes the ever-so perfect life of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, and how it is interrupted by an encounter with a man named Baxter. Although the back cover review mentions the Iraq War and a threat to London, don't be fooled. Nothing like that happens in the book - it's
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just setting the scene for the atmosphere in central London that day. This is not really a book for those who want a plot. Very little actually happens. Instead, we are with Perowne at work, at home, at his squash game, in the fishmarket, and I won't deny that Ian McEwan writes very beautifully, as another reviewer points out. The book just didn't grab me and make me want to read on, and was made all the more difficult by McEwan's very dense writing style and huge paragraphs and chapters (I read at bedtime and I like a book with good finishing points).

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.
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LibraryThing member davieparker
Like James Joyce, McEwan follows a not-so-ordinary man through an entire and not entirely ordinary day. And this day represents our world at this moment in history, on the precipice. Family, illness and mortality, art, war, music, sex, class, are all topics for McEwan through the mind of his
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protagonist, Henry Perowne. But the central focus for Henry and his family, as it is now for all of us, is terror and the threat of terrorism. Don't be fooled by the jacket copy, however. There are no big action sequences, no superheroes, in this novel; Henry and his family are trying to understand this new world and how to be in it. They're doing the best that they can.
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.
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LibraryThing member dchaikin
I read this about a year ago. It's a good story, but it's intended to be something larger; and while reading it I couldn't quite capture anything really special McEwan was getting at. So, what I got was a dullish 200 page scene set-up with weak attempts at deep thoughts on Iraq that didn't do much
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for me. The final scene is pretty intense. Somewhere on LT I read that this was intended as an oblique criticism of Blair. In that light it becomes a much more interesting book. Side note: two small things stick out. One is that I love the idea of the future primitive man awing over mans previous golden age with endless hot water for our spotless heavenly showers.

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.
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LibraryThing member innominate
At first I was a bit disappointed that a number of the reviews here and on Amazon rated Saturday so poorly. I thought it was magnificent.

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
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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.)
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LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
This is the first book of McEwan's that I have read and unfortunately I have to admit to being rather disappointed in it over all.
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
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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
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LibraryThing member miriamparker
Boo. Yet another entry into the "Bad September 11th Book" genre.
LibraryThing member Abi78
Some of the writing in this was breathtakingly beautiful and so it sits on my shelves with five bookmarks in it marking the best bits!
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
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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!
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LibraryThing member varwenea
Oh my gawd, I finally suffered through this ‘best book of the year’. What am I not understanding???

The books summary speaks of what would have been an ordinary day for Henry Perowne, doing some errands and spending time with family. But a minor traffic incident leads to an unsettling
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confrontation that turns his day nightmarish. This incident is highlighted to be the crux of the story. The traffic incident itself is 20 pages, while the climax, i.e. the ‘nightmare’, is 25 pages. The books is 289 pages long. The rest are long drawn out babbling of his inner thoughts, his identity and his happiness, pandering of his surgical skills, the physicality of a racquetball game, his wife’s family and her alluring self, Daisy’s poetic talents, Theo’s natural blues nature, and an argument over being involved in the Iraq War or not. The best parts of the book are, per usual McEwan style, the relationships. In this case, my favorite is that of Henry’s mother, who is now lost in the “mental death” of dementia. His visit to her is poignant and painfully realistic.

I feel cheated by all the review quotes from book cover/back:

“Dazzling… Powerful…McEwan has shown how we… live today.” - New York Times
Seriously? How many families has a dad (Henry) who is a neurosurgeon, a mom (Rosalind) who is a lawyer, a daughter (Daisy) who is publishing a book of poems at age 22, a son (Theo) who is moving to NYC to headline a blues club at age 18, all of whom living in a seven thousand square feet Roman villa, east of London? The cranky, drunken father-in-law l lives in a French chateau, too. I am willing to concede that some issues transcend all social classes regardless of wealth and talent – cranky, drunken in-law, a mom with dementia.

“Finely wrought and shimmering with intelligence” – The New York Times Book Review
There’s a fine line between verbose vs. intelligence. McEwan goes into excessive descriptions of the aforementioned professions’ skill sets and racquetball, almost as though to show-off his ability to do research. It almost reads like he phoned-a-friend and wrote down everything he was told. He exhibited the same problem with “The Innocent”, rambling on about technical details.

“McEwan is a supremely gifted… Saturday is a tightly wound tour de force.” – Washington Post Book World
Tightly wound? I was so bored that I read three other books between the pages of this book.

“This extraordinary book is not a political novel. It is a novel about consciousness that illuminates the sources of politics.” – The Nation
This is a two-part irrelevant comment. First, despite McEwan choosing the “Saturday” being February 15 2003, the day of the demonstration against the 2003 Iraq invasion of Iraq in London, not even the book summary on the back cover suggest anything political. Second, several consciousness sources were identified – familial, professional, moral values, even sexual; to summarize and artificially push these towards politics is twisting the points. More accurately, there is a valid statement towards political engagement, to do so or not, but not necessarily politics itself.

“Saturday is an exemplary novel, engrossing and sustained. It is undoubtedly McEwan’s best.” – The Spectator
See above about being bored and read three other books. Engrossing? I think not.

“Read the last 100 pages at one sitting – the pace and the thrill allow it… Exhilarating.” – Los Angeles Times
I put up with this book awaiting the thrilling last 100 pages. Then I was deep within 100 pages, and still put it down for long stretches. Even the climax lasted only 25 pages within the 100. The resolution occurred amazingly quickly as though it’s time to call-it-a-day, quite literally! Saturday is done, over, finito!
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LibraryThing member Sandydog1
A Joycean day-in-the life story. This time instead of a ruminating, dd agent in Dublin, we have a hyper observant neurosurgeon in London. The surgeon's day off moves along crisply, on schedule, as he interacts with his (other) self-actualized family members. But the day is punctuated by events of
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sheer terror as well.
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LibraryThing member cmeatto
Should be a text book given out at the Scarsdale train station. Captures the meaning and meaningless nature of successful upper middle class lives. As we all know, a writer of extraordinary talent now at the top of his game.
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
Ian McEwan manages to breathe life and colour into the most mundane activities. Pages are devoted to the main character cooking dinner (bit of fish, bit of wine, sprinkle on a bit of parsley) and still I was gripped. It's the quality of his writing. He also did a good job of describing the squash
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match. Quite a long episode - in the hands of a lesser writer it would have been dull, but the way the two friends nearly came to blows over a disputed point was well observed (and had more than a grain of truth if my husband's squash league is anything to go by).

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.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
Ian McEwan has created a rich story built around the events of a single day in the life of Henry Perowne and his family. Henry is a neurosurgeon, married to a lawyer with two grown children. All of them are very successful in their chosen careers, they have a lovely old home in London and a
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interesting, but ordinary, life. In this novel, the events of one day, including a minor fender bender, spiral into something terrifying.

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.
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LibraryThing member nocto
Best book I've read this year, and I don't feel like I've been reading a load of rubbish either. I wasn't at all sure to start with, what with brain surgery and the book being set in a single day, but it grew on me immensely. Off to find more McEwan to read.
LibraryThing member suesbooks
This book was very well-written, but extremely tedious. So much of the content was so utterly ridiculous I'm surprised that McEwan is not embarrassed by it. So glad to have it finished. One day in the extremely eventful life of a neurosurgeon.
LibraryThing member ksieyzc_2007
I know that this book has received mixed reviews in the written media however I rather liked it. This may be down to geography, knowing the places he was talking about, being able to envisage them on a saturday morning with the protest underway.
Location aside parts of it *did* drag at times. The
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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.
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LibraryThing member austenheroin
hmm. This is something I never would have picked up on my own, but I read it for a book group and came away with a good deal. I've never read McEwan despite (perhaps because?) of his accolades and I found that he is indeed very well crafted.

The novel is a stream-of-consciousness meditation on how
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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.
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LibraryThing member Grandeplease
I read and wondered about the plot. Where was the storyline headed? I read some more and wondered some more. I felt like I was reading a "Seinfeld" book about nothing - but it was entertaining this nothing.

The book was a gift from a close friend, thus I was willing to give the author more of an
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opportunity. In the end, I was not disappointed.

Definitely, Saturday is not your average story.
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LibraryThing member BrianDewey
I eagerly picked up this book after reading Atonement, which I thought stunning. Saturday is masterful storytelling at the technical level. I'm amazed that I read this book so compulsively, considering how trivial the story is.[return][return]And that is the biggest problem with Saturday. The story
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you can tell about "A Day in the Life" pales next to a story like Atonement, which covers several lives. McEwan can hint at things, like the family relationships or the nature of the mind, but fundamentally the story is trivial.
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LibraryThing member Joode
Set all on one day -15 february 2003. Henry Perowne is a contented, successful neurosurgeon, very happily married to Rosalind and proud father of two successful grown-up children - Daisy and Theo. It is topical and detailed regarding matters of teh time. Also quite detailed about brain
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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
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LibraryThing member clik4
Precision. The meticulous writing perfectly accompanies the main character. Perowne is a surgeon by profession and takes the same cool, calculating analytical frame of mind into the rest of his life. New to Ian McEwan, I am stunned by the author’s meticulous attention to language. The vocabulary
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is impressive and leads the reader to examine new thoughts and understand exactly where the character of Perowne lives. His self reflective style allows access to the internal character and the levels of thought throughout a single Saturday and to the decisions that present. Anyone getting close to fifty can relate; the issues of newly grownup children, taking care of an elderly parent, the state of the world post 9-11, the minute occurances and the life altering turns that occur during the course of one day. What happens to one industrious, cautious, perfectionistic man when confronted with the uncontrollable? The conclusion is heroic, partly disappointing when Perowne is dismissive of consequences beyond himself, but an honest male perspective. Word choice alone is enough to recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member RoaldEuller
Although I loved Atonement, I have to go against the tide here and give a solid thumbs down to Saturday. The writing is still superb, but the main character and his family really rubbed me the wrong way. Not being unfair, just honest.
LibraryThing member jmoncton
This story covers a single Saturday in the life of Henry Perowne, a London neurosurgeon. Most of the book covers pretty mundane activities as Perowne goes through his normal weekend routine and planning for a dinner party with his family. At first, I kept on thinking that this was a male version of
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Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway - a single day, planning for a dinner party, and lots of wandering thoughts. But the book has a definite twist when Perowne gets into a minor traffic accident with a punk which later leads to a serious confrontation. Although the first 2/3 of the book is a bit introspective and meandering, it definitely picks up and becomes more of a story about what we value in life. If you liked McEwan's Atonement, you'll enjoy this one.
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LibraryThing member sanddancer
It took three attempts before I finally managed to finish this book.

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
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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!
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LibraryThing member AndrewBlackman
Not my favourite McEwan - that is Atonement by a long way. This was OK, a more meditative book, full of long meandering passages from the head of Henry Perowne, a successful neurosurgeon living in Marylebone with his successful wife and talented blues-musician son, awaiting the return from France
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of his beautiful and talented and successful daughter. A man so ridiculously successful, in fact, that you just know something really bad is going to happen to him. He's got a big metaphorical "KICK ME" sign taped to his back from page 1.

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.
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