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Old 14th Feb 2005, 16:42   #11
John Self
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As it's just come out in hardback, Col, and it's a cert for Booker longlisting at least, I daresay the publishers will stretch the full year out of the hardback and hold back the paperback till next Jan.

The one you describe with tunnels and Berlin doesn't sound familiar to me so it may be The Innocent, which is one of the ones I haven't read, along with The Cement Garden.
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Old 14th Feb 2005, 16:54   #12
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Yes, it's The Innocent. It was good.
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Old 14th Feb 2005, 17:32   #13
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Nice review HP and I agree with what you say. I certainly enjoyed it although perhaps not as much as Atonement which I found a lot more emotionally involving.

There are a couple of very uncomplimentary and rather peevish reviews on amazon though which I would link to if I knew how. And much as I don't really want to agree with them I can't help feeling they have at least the semblance of a point.
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Old 14th Feb 2005, 18:11   #14
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The petulant reviewer who refers to Daisy Perowne being published at such a young age - what age is she, HP?
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Old 14th Feb 2005, 18:20   #15
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Yes, I read those, too, Jim. There were some minor niggles - McEwan has obviously researched his subject and is a little free with the medical terminology at times - too eager to convince the reader he, the author, knows his stuff; the game of squash - for those new to it - might be considered overwritten, although I very much enjoyed it, having played a few times myself; and as mentioned, the rather infuriating Daisy, apparently beautiful and talented and published! (in one so young, and one who writes poetry which is notoriously impossible to break through with - this is stretching things a little). But nevertheless, for me, it was a welcome page-turner. I liked Henry. I was happy to spend time with him. Sometimes, with a book, as with people, you just can't help liking them, regardless of the flaws. Warts 'n all, Saturday was such a book.

Col Have had a quick check through to find Daisy's age, but no joy. I don't actually remember her age being specified, but I assumed she was in her mid to late twenties. Perhaps Jim may have noted it ....
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Old 14th Feb 2005, 19:52   #16
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Not that I'm a poetry fan at all, but I think Simon Armitage and Sophie Hannah both had poetry published in their mid-late twenties, possibly earlier for Sophie. Perhaps there is someone similar McEwan had in mind.
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Old 15th Feb 2005, 9:21   #17
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I think she is twenty four.
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Old 17th Feb 2005, 21:34   #18
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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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Old 18th Feb 2005, 8:53   #19
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Fair comment, John. I must confess I rather regretted zapping up such a ringing endorsement when, after having finished the book and allowed a day or two to pass, the plot niggles wormed their way to the surface in my mind and couldn't be ignored. As I've said over in the Palimp Book Lists, so wonderful was McEwan's prose that those niggles didn't bother me unduly while I was reading and I hastily wrote a review while still in thrall to his fabulous writing. For what it's worth, McEwan puts me in mind of those actors, who while having an abundance of talent, frequently choose the wrong vehicle to showcase it. I'm thinking here of Jeff Bridges, an actor who usually appears in quality films, but is never really given the chance to shine as brightly as I'm sure he could.

For me, McEwan is first and foremost a writer's writer (as are Updike and Richard Yates); but as a story-teller he falls short on too many occasions. But here is where personal prejudice exerts its influence. And I believe most of us have a fair sprinkling of these, which colour our reactions to books and their authors. For my own part, one of my prejudices is this: give me a writer over a story-teller anyday. I can forgive clunking plots and unlikely scenarios - even a dearth of action - but I cannot forgive poor or lack-lustre writing. Of course, one doesn't preclude the other and I'm as delighted as the next (wo)man when I find an author who manages to combine both: great prose hand in hand with great fiction-spinning is for me, the ultimate - the Holy Grail that few manage to secure. Well, I think McEwan achieved that in Atonement - as we are both pretty much agreed, so at least he's proved he has the knack, if not reliably. However, there is something else I very much approve of in McEwan's work, and that is his sincerity. He doesn't show off, he doesn't try to appear cool, adopt that wretched urban chic style of delivery - unlike some - Toby Litt is one I think guilty of such a crime. No - McEwan, I always feel, is giving you his best and leaves the posing to the more insecure and less seasoned scribblers, who may well be enjoying their brief fifteen minutes of fame, but who won't see the distance if they don't put truth first and shun the phony artifice of style over content. Don't get me wrong - great writing, for me, always includes great style, but never at the expense of sincerity. However beautifully something is stated, it must still ring the bell of truth.

Sooooo - I still say, go read Saturday - for the writing, alone, if nothing else. But I really don't think those niggles that have been well-aired by now, are great enough to prevent you enjoying what is still a very accomplished piece of work.
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Old 21st Feb 2005, 16:08   #20
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At the risk of overkill - but taking my cue from John, who has just posted up Peter Kemp's (notoriously difficult to please literary critic for The Sunday Times) review of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go - here, for what it's worth, is that same gentleman's concluding (and certainly enthusiastic) thoughts from his review of McEwan's Saturday:

Quote:
Guardedly optimistic, liberal, questioning and self-questioning, Perowne's mentality is that of someone making the most of what the novel calls "the brief privilege of consciousness". Around it, McEwan places reminders of its vulnerability: the damaged brains in the operating theatre, the warped mind-sets of religious fundamentalists, Perowne's mother, increasingly blanked-out by Alzheimer's, Baxter ruined mentally, physically and emotionally by a defective gene.

Sanity shadowed by unreason is the theme of another novel about a day in London: Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. Saturday shares other concerns with it, too: preparations for a party, the allure of the city, intimations of ageing and mortality, medical matters and the reverberations of war. These affinities don't seem accidental. With his masterpiece Atonement, which also incorporated parallels and homages to classic novelists, McEwan decisively staked his claim to be part of the great fictional tradition. Where the literary careers of some of his contemporaries now look like gaudy wreckage, he has triumphantly developed into a writer of outstanding subtlety and substance. Saturday has its inert elements (Perowne's talented, decorative offspring — poetic elfin-faced Daisy and gentle velvet-eyed blues musician Theo — are depthless, and his wife isn't much more fully realised). But, written with superb exactness, complex, suspenseful, reflective and humane, this novel about an expert on the human brain by an expert on the human mind reinforces his status as the supreme novelist of his generation.
I haven't included the rest of it, since it's more or less an outline of the plot - which by now, you will have a pretty good idea of. It's nice to see Mr Kemp's evident enthusiasm for McEwan as a writer - and equally nice to learn he wasn't any more taken with know-it-all opinionated Daisy or guitar-plucking prissy Theo - anymore than John or I; although we did at least ration ourselves to carping about just one each (Daisy in my case, Theo in John's). If you want to read the full spiel, check out http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article...457118,00.html before The Sunday Times restricts it to on-line subscribers only.
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