Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reader's Diary #398- Ian McEwan: Saturday

In the past week I was reminded twice why I love reading. First there was Randall Maggs' brilliant Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems and now it's Ian McEwan's Saturday.

Saturday is one day in the life of Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon living in London, 2003. Though I've read some people suggest that the book is slow or boring, I thought it was a rather event filled day. Beginning with Perowne waking up early to see a plane on fire skirting across the night sky, he is later attacked by muggers as he heads to a squash game. There's more but I don't want to ruin it, and in any case, I would think these two events alone illustrate that there is action in the book.

It's the see-sawing of the macro and the micro that define the story. Witnessing the plane brings Perowne's thoughts immediately to 9/11, there's a huge anti-war protest in the city, and the crisis in the middle-East is never far from Perowne's thoughts even as he's making a fish stew, using the bathroom, and performing an operation. What is McEwan's getting at? Sometimes it's easy to draw parallels with Perowne's individual dramas to those happening on the global scene. But I don't think he means necessarily to suggest one is an analogy for the other, or that small violence leads to greater violence. Perhaps all he's saying is that catastrophes, like that which happened to the World Trade Center, have far-reaching implications, including having the capacity to colour or skew the way we see day-to-day events.

I also enjoyed his writing style. Certainly having a plot take place in a 24-hour period is not an original idea (Mrs. Dalloway?). Nor is using stream-of-conciousness. Yet, McEwan's take is one of the better examples I've read. I've never been a fan of stream-of-conciousness, often finding it confusing and too experimental. It helps, of course, that Perowne is mostly likeable (though not flawless), but what I really appreciated was McEwan's simple manner. He didn't need to resort to sentence fragments or ellipses or any outlandish stylistic device capture Perowne's train of thought. Words are always going to be an approximation of our thoughts; why not accept that and forgo the artistic pretensions? McEwan was able to take me into Perowne's mind, minute-to-minute, slipping from one idea to the next, but making the transitions easy and believable.

It's been a great Saturday.

The Soundtrack
1. Paper Planes- M.I.A.
2. One Day In Your Life- 54-40
3. Double Crossing Time- John Mayall
4. Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang- John Lee Hooker
5. Goldberg Variations- Angela Hewitt


gautami tripathy said...

Some books make our day...

My weekend too seems to be very productive, readingwise. I read many a short stories.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic review John. I agree, McEwan is eerily good at getting into his character's minds. When I read "Atonement," I couldn't believe that McEwan actually hadn't been a 12 year old girl.

My first exposure to his work was actually with his first novel, possibly the most disturbing book I've ever read - "The Cement Garden". Not really the kind to make your day. Unless you're Freud.


raych said...

Well, nurts. I've heard both great and awful things about Saturday, but I love McEwan so I'll probablybe picking this up.

Teddy Rose said...

Great review John. I own a copy of just about every book McEwan has ever written but I have yet to read any. LOL! I must get on with it.

John Mutford said...

Dewey reviewed it here.

John Mutford said...

PeachyTO reviewed it here.