I picked up Ian McEwan's Saturday after I finished Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (check out my review) two weeks ago, eager for another quick read. As mentioned in my previous book review, I bought this in a '3 books for the price of 2' deal, along with Never Let Me Go and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In The Time Of Cholera (*sigh* the mere mention of this book makes me want to swoon like a lovelorn virginal teen girl), so I had no prior expectations of it at all, and neither have I actually read anything by Ian McEwan.
After the sense of hopelessness and resigned helplessness I felt from reading Never Let Me Go, I was desperate for some fastpaced action, some intensity, something to neutralize that lingering feeling. Knowing that the entire novel takes place in the span of a Saturday, I decided to read Saturday, praying for some explosions and humour that can appease the uncultured bloodmonger in me, well, not really, but that, along with Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale were the thinnest unread books I had lying on my shelf, I chose the former over the latter because it seemed like a lighter read.
Saturday chronicles a particularly eventful day of Henry Perowne, a middle-aged neurosurgeon. Waking up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, he stood by the window and saw a flaming plane on its descent to Heathrow, and with that, I was rapidly drawn into the most intimate aspects of Henry's life and existence as he attempted to make sense of this event. The plane landed safely, but the book is really a one-day snapshot of a normal man's life, who spends most times questioning his relationship with the world at large, pondering his place. Existential stuff.
A happy and dedicated husband of Rosalind, a lawyer for a newspaper, and proud father of Daisy, a poet, and Theo, a musician. Henry, being a neurosurgeon, had long lived a life of science and reality, a direct opposite of children, who embraced literature and creativity. Well-trained and educated, Henry viewed everything rationally, caring more his family and personal principles than larger events looming in the distance (the book took place on the 15th of February, 2003, just a few days before the Iraq War). Saturday is mostly about Henry's thoughts that kept him preoccupied as he went through the day encountering a demonstration against the war, getting in an ugly car accident that led him to an ugly confrontation with a thug, an intense squash match with his friend, visiting his Alzheimer-stricken mother at the nursing home, doing grocery shopping for a family dinner with his cranky poet father-in-law, and his daughter Daisy, who was returning from Paris.
Sounds pretty boring, and I'm not surprised why these were the complaints from most negative reviews I've read, yet strangely, I was utterly engaged. Not much of a plot, but this book isn't plot driven, it's about immersing myself completely into Henry's life, caring not only for him, but also his loved ones, the simple thought of one moment drifting to another, and then, the most private and precious memories, his first meeting with Rosalind to their marriage, watching both his son and daughter choose paths vastly different from his own even though he was the one responsible for setting the path for them, watching his mother's mind deteriorate from the ravages of Alzheimer (some other reviews said dementia, I'm not too sure), and then the gradually contentious relationship between his daughter and his poet father-in-law (the dinner at night was meant to be a reconciliation between them both after a spat many months earlier).
Yes, they are thoughts of a normal man whose main priorities lie with his family and his work. I was drawn in, one layer after another that was laid before me by the author. Everything felt real, and then, when a violent confrontation interrupted his family dinner at night, I had to see how Henry would attempt to resolve his inner battle between intellect and emotions. Like most civilized man with a rational mind, his life had been one of order and discipline, trying to impose as much sanity and reason as possible into his surroundings even if they were descending into madness.
There's not much I can say, this book is pretty slow-paced, plotless, even, but it worked for me because the characters were real enough to care and relate to, or they remind me of people I've met and know in real life. Even if this is ultimately a simple story of a simple man, it is made significant because ultimately, certain aspects of our lives are made significant by our own minds, and later idealized or dramatized by our own memories. After all the events in the book had happened, I assumed many of it will stay with the characters.
Saturday is another book that lingers.
"It isn't the net worth of one's life that is important. It is the day to day concerns, the personal victories, and the celebration of life... and love!" - Terra Branford, Final Fantasy 6
Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, I've just used a video game quote in an Ian McEwan book review.
Dream cast for (unlikely) film adaptation:
Ralph Fiennes as Henry Perowne
Kristin Scott Thomas as Rosalind
(The English Patient reunion!)
Keira Knightley as Daisy
Daniel Radcliffe as Theo
(... because it's funny to see Harry Potter himself being a musician)
Christopher Plummer as John Grammaticus the Cranky Father-in-law
(Ian McKellen is possible too)
Vinnie Jones as Baxter the Thug
(no one can ever be as menacing as Vinnie 'I'm Juggernaut, bitch!' Jones)
Other Reviews of Saturday:
Keifus Writes: Books Reviews: I. McEwan, J. Stewart
Alan in Belfast: Saturday - Ian McEwan