"Saturday," Ian McEwan

Conn Corrigan
12 January 2006


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by Ian McEwan
Vintage | January 2006 | ISBN 0099469685

Recommended by Conn Corrigan: "When it comes to reading anything by Ian McEwan, my objectivity is seriously compromised. This is his fault, I believe, as much as mine. Before reading Saturday, I had read Amsterdam (the only book I’ve ever read in one sitting), Atonement and Black Dogs. With every book, I was completely absorbed in the story within two or three chapters. So when Saturday came out, I had a good feeling I’d like it. I loved it. There are definite departures here from his previous novels and short stories. But his distinctive precision of style is there, a quality that makes him one of my favourite writers. Much of McEwan’s earlier work is intriguingly dark. He has tackled incest, child abduction, mutilation and stalking. But Saturday has a different feel.

Taking place over the course of a day, much of the book is a mini-celebration of ordinary, everyday things; his central character Henry Perowne reflects on the joys of music, sex, sport and cooking (you can try one of Perowne’s recipes here). Perowne is a contented man – his son and daughter are incredibly talented, his wife is beautiful and a successful lawyer, and he loves his work as a neurosurgeon. Indeed, meditations on the fulfillment that comes with enjoying one’s work occupy a significant portion of the novel, with the strong descriptions of surgical procedures reflecting McEwan’s two years’ preparation shadowing a neurosurgeon.

Of course, something has to upset this cozy existence. All may be well in Perowne’s inner world, but the central character is reminded that the outside world is not so fortunate. In the opening scenes Perowne witnesses a plane with a wing on fire descending close to Heathrow. He later discovers this was an accident, in which no one was hurt, but the sense of “post-9/11” vulnerability and uncertainty foreshadows the danger in which he and his family later find themselves. This particular Saturday, 15 February 2003, also holds its own reminder of insecurity, as tens of thousands take to the streets of London to protest against the invasion of Iraq. Perowne feels ambivalent about the protest, having once treated a former victim from Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers. His poet daughter Daisy is convinced of the war’s immorality. The result is a superbly written clash between father and daughter, embodying a split between the arts and the sciences, and the heart and the mind.

The novel’s reflections on life take the reader on a pleasurable journey, but it remains clear that at some point, they will give way to something less pleasant. And so they do – after Perowne is involved in a minor car crash, petty criminals violate the sanctity and security of his home to terrorise his family. This being Ian McEwan, I wouldn’t have expected anything less."

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Ian McEwan is a bestselling novelist and Booker Prize-winning author. He has won several prestigious awards for his work, including the Somerset Maugham Award for his debut collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites (1975), the Whitbread Award in 1987 for The Child in Time, and the Booker Prize in 1998 for Amsterdam. He was awarded a CBE in 2000.

McEwan’s writing career has spanned far beyond novel writing. He has also published several plays and short story anthologies, as well as articles in the national press. Ian McEwan has an acute interest in science, and cites scientist and environmentalist E.O. Wilson as his intellectual hero. In March 2005 he participated in the Cape Farewell voyage, traveling to and broadcasting from the arctic to draw attention to climate change. As well as introducing openDemocracy’s climate change debate, McEwan has also written for openDemocracy about the Iraq war.

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