Thursday, March 05, 2020

Fiction Review: Saturday

I had never read any of Ian McEwan's novels (though I did see the movie adaptation of Atonement), so when perusing my overflowing to-be-read bookcase last month, I chose Saturday, a McEwan novel that takes place all in one day. This book has been on my shelves for so long that it has a sticker on it from a used bookstore that went out of business at least 10 years ago (maybe 15?). I'm glad I finally got to this unique and intriguing novel about one very unusual Saturday in the life of a London neurosurgeon.

Henry Perowne has a good life in 2003. He lives with his wife in a lovely, huge London home within walking distance of the hospital where he works as a neurosurgeon, a job that he both loves and at which he is very skilled. Something wakes Henry early one Saturday morning before dawn, and he stands before the open window and witnesses a strange and unsettling sight. This is the start of what will turn out to be both a typical and very unusual Saturday for him. He plans to play squash with one of his colleagues, visit his elderly mother who has dementia at her nursing home, and buy ingredients for his famous seafood stew. They are planning an evening of celebration, with his musician son, his daughter who is coming back from Paris with her first published book of poetry, his lawyer wife, and her eccentric and famous poet father, also arriving from France. Henry is looking forward to these regular Saturday activities and to the warm family reunion this evening. Along the way, though, some unexpected incidents disrupt Henry's carefully planned-out day. Witnessing that odd thing before dawn is just the beginning.

This unique novel zeroes in on the details of one man's typical Saturday that turns out to be anything but typical. McEwan examines the mundane (like a description of Henry's weekly squash game) as well as the more extraordinary events of Henry's day side-by-side with equal attention. He zeroes in on the microcosm of one man's single day, but the novel also explores global events in this post-9/11 world that Henry lives in. There is a huge protest in the city against the UK's involvement in the Iraq war, and it's disruption of Henry's day (along with what he witnesses in the early morning hours) forces him to think about what is happening in the world, culminating in an argument with his daughter in the late afternoon. There were passages early in the novel that I found a bit dull, but that only made the surprises later in the novel all the more startling in contrast. I tabbed more than a dozen pages with quotes or passages I want to write down; McEwan has an incredible talent for thoughtful writing that resonated with me. This is a passage about Henry's young adult son Theo's perspective:
"On a recent Sunday evening Theo came up with an aphorism: the bigger you think, the crappier it looks. Asked to explain, he said, "When we go on about the big things, the political situation, global warming, world poverty, it all looks really terrible, with nothing getting better, nothing to look forward to. But when I think small, closer in--you know, a girl I've just met, or this song we're going to do with Chas, or snowboarding next month, then it looks great. So this is going to be my motto--think small."
Theo aptly sums up what could be the theme of this book--the micro-view of our lives consisting of family, work, and relationships versus the global view of what is happening in the world around us and how the two interact. This engrossing and unique novel gave me a lot to think about; I love that in a book! I am definitely looking forward to reading more McEwan novels--I have some catching up to do.

289 pages, Doubleday
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  1. I have never read any McEwan either, I am a bit intimidated by him for some reason, but this sounds good.

    1. I enjoyed it, Helen! Want to read more of his novels!

  2. I read this years ago (and, several others by the author as well). Funny, I don't remember loving or hating it :)

    1. ha ha - some books just don't stick for long, Diane :) I find that reviewing books helps me remember them MUCH better.