Thread: Ian McEwan
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Old 17th Feb 2005, 22:34   #18
John Self
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As I started reading Saturday on 15 February 2005, the second anniversary of its setting, I did wonder how it would look to readers in 2025 or later. The wealth of detail about the then-impending Iraq invasion is somewhat oppressive even now - the debate Henry Perowne has with his daughter Daisy certainly doesn't introduce anything into the war argument that hasn't been rehearsed a million times already - so it could become more and more irrelevant in future years, or of course on the other hand it could become a valuable historical document, if the Iraq war ends up having the same lasting significance as, say, Vietnam.

Anyway, like Jim I enjoyed the book but not as much as Atonement, which for me remains McEwan's greatest achievement. Just as Amsterdam seemed like an inconsequential flexing of muscles between Enduring Love and Atonement, Saturday seems to lack the scope or intent of a bona fide classic-in-waiting. A man's day can of course be the stuff of epic fiction - how can we forget Ulysses, try as we might? - but McEwan's chosen style of relentless detail interspersed with memories isn't novel enough to make the book feel particularly special or new. Martin Amis said that there are two types of long book: ones that are long because they have to be, and others that are very short books that go on for a long time. Saturday is an average length book but feels more like a short story that goes on for a very long time.

That's not to say that it's not impressive, which it is, and thoroughly absorbing for the most part - a few pages after I was ho-humming at the thought of another meticulously detailed brain operation, in the closing section of the book, I actually found myself gripped as I hadn't been since the first explosive confrontation that sets off a chain of events through Perowne's day. McEwan can write, and while part of me thought the book should have been credited to Neil Kitchen FRCS as co-author (McEwan cites him in the acknowledgements as letting him watch him operating over a period of two years), only a true writer of great skill could have kept the reader turning so many pages of ostensibly unpromising material. Eighteen pages to describe a squash game, anyone?

It is indeed full of implausibilities, not least one which has been scathingly derided by an Amazon reviewer, relating to the resolution of the big event near the end of the novel, and which is frankly laughable. How likely is it too that through the course of the day, when we are presented with his thoughts on absolutely everything, that Perowne would only think about one (real) news story (and one made-up one)? Or that the studiously unliterary Perowne would remember the names of poetry commissioning editors and the like from a conversation several years earlier, when we're told at the time "their names meant nothing to him"?

The thing raised earlier about Daisy's age (I couldn't see it specified anywhere) didn't really occur to me, though I did think that Perowne's son, Theo, was a precocious little oik with his successful band at the age of 18 (called, if you will, New Blue Rider. Oh Ian. Don't you have any children you could ask to invent a plausible band name for you?). That's my equivalent, I suppose, of Honey's hating Daisy...

Anyway, for all my specific gripes, I enjoyed the quality of the writing immensely and was absorbed enough to get through its 280 pages in three days. And the closing pages, where Perowne meditates on the future and the relentless march of time and what it does to us all, were superb. Just don't mention the war...
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