Thursday, April 17, 2008

Book Review: Saturday, by Ian McEwan

I just finished the novel Saturday, by Ian McEwan. I thoroughly enjoyed his earlier Atonement, an epic tale of love, crime, and betrayal set in wartime England, but Saturday shares almost nothing with the prior work. The entire story takes place in one day, a Saturday, in the life of the protagonist Henry Perowne. Perowne is a successful London neurosurgeon, married to a beautiful lawyer and father of two accomplished children, a blues musician for a son and a published poet for a daughter. His life is a happy, serene one whose only blights are the senility of his mother and the caustic manner of his father-in-law. A traffic accident eventually escalates into a dangerous confrontation that threatens to turn his dream life into a nightmare. (Not a spoiler... it's described on the back of the book.)

I won't delve any further into the plot, but I will share some personal observations about the book. I enjoyed it, but felt distinctly underwhelmed. As a reader, I have one very strong (and narcissistic) bias: if I can't relate to any of the characters, I have trouble really liking a book. In Saturday, Henry Perowne is THE character- all others are defined by how they are related to him and described through his eyes. And, frankly, he's sort of dull. Intelligent, successful, loyal, but maybe too aloofly perfect, and therefore lacking in depth. The modern setting, with anxiety about the upcoming Iraq War lurking in the background, doesn't add much to the book, either. I did enjoy the medical descriptions and felt sort of gleeful stumbling upon references to RNA interference and CAG repeats, but they couldn't help but strike me as a bit cloying, in a Famous Author Understands Science! kind of way. The foreshadowing was laid on thickly, and I became a little impatient waiting for the big conflict to finally occur. However, there was one little plot surprise that I didn't forsee, so that spiced things up a bit. I think Saturday also suffered from being the book I read after Midnight's Children. McEwan's certainly a talented writer, but the language and images in Saturday pale in comparison to Rushdie's comical, elegant, and imaginative prose. I don't mean to sound overly negative- I did like the book, but if you haven't read anything by McEwan, I'd definitely recommend Atonement over Saturday.

3 comments:

Briana said...

Hey E- Cloying is a great word. Never heard it. -B

Patrick said...

I liked Saturday, although I had no expectations going into it. I had read Saturday before Atonement, so I didn't know what McEwan was capable of. I agree that Saturday is underwhelming. He makes no connection between you and Henry, save only perhaps by the fact that a Saturday does get pretty shitty for everyone after having a car accident.

Not a bad read, though, as you just want to find out how shitty of a day it will be...

KcM said...

I made the similar mistake of reading Atonement first, which seems like it's much better than any of McEwan's other books. So every other one I've read since -- Saturday, Amsterdam, Black Dogs, First Love, Last Rites -- has seemed underwhelming.

The only thing I remember from Saturday at this point is the main character talking to the two thugs after the car accident. And the last part in his house, now that I think about it. Still, not much there there, imho.