Book info

Saturday (2006)

Saturday (2006)
3.59 of 5 Votes: 1
1400076196 (ISBN13: 9781400076192)
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Saturday (2006)
Saturday (2006)

About book: “…here as on a darkling plain”Freud, I think, said once that the man’s main objective in life, the pursuit of happiness, is prevented by at least one of the following factors: his own body, the external world and the relationships with the others. Family, which could be his refuge and personal heaven is continuously threatened by a society that cannot permit isolation which would lead to its extinction. This appears to be the theme of Saturday: the frailty of human happiness, permanently challenged by the roaring chaos of the world. And the key to this interpretation is offered by the quotes that open and end the novel: the first, from Saul Bellow’s Herzog, is Herzog’s image of a helpless mankind controlled by a master puppeteer that pulls infinite strings provided by science, politics, psychology and so on; the second, from Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, is the fragility of the couple who mistakes for friendship and security the aggressive indifference of the world:Ah, love, let us be trueTo one another! for the world, which seemsTo lie before us like a land of dreams,So various, so beautiful, so new,Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;And we are here as on a darkling plainSwept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,Where ignorant armies clash by night.In this wearisome world wakes up Henry Perowne on a Saturday morning, at dawn, with a curious mixture of euphoria and anxiety and a subconscious fear of punishment for the happiness he was granted by appeasing the two gods that society usually uses to keep the individuals in check: Ananke and Eros, that is, his work and his love. He has the perfect family, with a wife he is, after twenty years, still deeply in love with, and two amazing children (not so children anymore), beautiful and talented. He has a rewarding job, as a brilliant neurosurgeon, and a beautiful home he sometimes feels guilty about. Looking through the window, he has, at first, the same false impression of security in a perfect world world as the couple in Arnold’s poem. London (the leitmotiv of the City as an alluring trap reminded me of Henry Miller’s Paris) unfolds in front of his eyes in full agreement with the whole universe, with streetlamps that look like stars and bird shit that looks like snowflakes:He sees the paving stone mica glistening in the pedestrianized square, pigeon excrement hardened by distance and cold into something almost beautiful, like a scattering of snow.This quiet harmony is suddenly disturbed by the apparition of a plane in flames, which recalls the terrors of the modern society, from grim accidents to terrorist attacks (it is less than two years after 9/11). Whether the destruction of the aircraft was fortuitous or deliberate proves to be irrelevant, since it leads to the same conclusion, that there is no haven, no safe place in the entire world as Henry will become increasingly aware as Saturday progresses and the dreamlike image of the dawn becomes more and more nightmarish, culminating with the invasion of his privacy and the murder attempt of his entire family. Many a critic observed that this book is different from what McEwan got us used with – maybe because it allures the reader with a certain sense of normality – no eerie characters or gory details here, but is it? Yes, the tension is more subtle in here, but the idea that the mankind is entitled only to a transitory happiness grows gradually, from an almost imperceptible uneasiness to a quiet despair. To fight this aggressive intrusion, two weapons are provided, either by the hero or his family, and both prove partially ineffective: science and art.The reductionism, of which Henry Perowne is a firm believer, is a philosophy relying on, so to speak, scientific fatalism: from this point of view almost everything in the human behaviour can be explained by the genetic biology. The hero is convinced that his moods are dictated by some “chemical accident while he slept”, and his fidelity is less fed by the love for his wife than by his character traits which programmed him to value stability and familiarity instead of sexual adventure, given that the entire human behaviour is recorded in the genes (“it’s down to invisible folds and kinks of character, written in code, at the level of molecules”). With the help of this knowledge he avoids an assault in the morning – by rapidly diagnosing a degenerative disease at one of the aggressors, Baxter, that is partially responsible for his actions and by promising professional help. The same knowledge will serve him a second time, in a more dramatic situation, when his entire family is in danger. However, both events reveal the limitations of the powers of the reason, and the washing Henry performs after operating on the same Baxter is a cathartic gesture – a last attempt to stop the invasion and destruction of his happiness:He takes a shower to wash away the sweat of concentration and all traces of the hospital – he imagines fine bone dust from Baxter’s skull lodged in the pores of his forehead – and soaps himself vigorously.The other way to hold out against the insanity of the world is art. Art can also serve as explanation and shield, with its illusion of beauty and universality, of a microcosm holding the macrocosm. Art can and will remove the knife from Rosalind’s throat, prevent the rape of Daisy and even provide hope for the criminal. Nevertheless Art is not that deus ex machina that brings the climax to an improbable denouement in “a faintly preposterous episode” as Zoe Heller, in her New York Times review seems to think. Art is only a form of expression, a transitory epiphany, an ephemeral acknowledgement that victim and assassin can catch together a glimpse of beauty:Daisy recited a poem that cast a spell on one man. Perhaps any poem would have done the trick, and thrown the switch on a sudden mood change. Still, Baxter fell for the magic, he was transfixed by it, and he was reminded how much he wanted to live. However, relief is once again short-lived and the powers of emotion, like those of reason, are temporary too, a desecrated revelation that will only delay the end. With the foreboding of a gruesome outcome, like a bomb waiting to fall (a foreboding of the author, too, when you think of the terrorist attacks in London 2005), an exhausted Henry reaches his bed at dawn, after a day long as a lifetime, holding his wife in an unconscious re-enacting of the androgyne being, just before the severing.

No spoilers here. This book explores the events of Henry Perowne's Saturday, which I can kind of see as a metaphor for a person's life. You start out with nothing but potential, events happen, and each day ends with its own sort of oblivion - sleep. As with Atonement, McEwan's prose in this book was simply delicious. At the end of this review are some of my favorite passages that I just needed to type out for my own memory's sake.But I also think that reading Atonement first spoiled me. I was expecting this book to wallop me just like that novel had, but it didn't pack quite the same punch. While the narration of the everyday stuff was engrossing, the narration of the actual plot points was unbelievable. And, btw, the plot points are few and far between. Also, another reviewer of this book made a point that the character of Henry Perowne had a little too much going for him. His wife was beautiful, his daughter was beautiful, his son was talented, and he was a great surgeon. It gets a little boring. And don't get me started on how annoying it gets to constantly hear that female characters are "beautiful." This has become a pet peeve of mine, but should probably be the subject of a livejournal entry or something.Forgetting that, the book was still good. It's amazing how well McEwan can explore the themes he picks. And after reading this and Atonement, it's hard to miss what a staunch materialist McEwan is (the scientific, deterministic sort of materialist - not the kind that likes to buy stuff). Events and catalysts are all causes and effects of other things. Moods, interactions, fights from decades past, car accidents - they are all the cause of hormones, or neurons, or world leaders' actions thousands of miles away. It's impossible to chronicle every action and re-action, but McEwan artfully shows us how deterministic this world is and what we can attempt to do in our slide toward oblivion.A couple favorite passages below demonstrate this materialism.1.) [at a fish market] "Henry liked to put to himself when he was a schoolboy: what are the chances of this particular fish, from that shoal, off that continental shelf, ending up in the pages, no, on this page of this copy of the Daily Mirror? Something just short of infinity to one. Similarly, the grains of sand on a beach, arranged just so. The random ordering of the world, the unimaginable odds against any particular condition still please him. Even as a child, and especially after Aberfan, he never believed in fate or providence, or the future being made by someone in the sky. Instead, at every instant, a trillion trillion possible futures; the pickiness of pure chance and physical laws seemed like freedom from the scheming of a gloomy god" (pages 128-129).2. [while pondering the workings of the human brain] "For all the recent advances, it's still not known how this well-protected one kilogram or so of cells actually encodes information, how it holds experiences, memories, dreams and intentions. He doesn't doubt that in years to come, the coding mechanism will be known... But even when it [is], the wonder will remain that mere wet stuff can make this bright inward cinema of thought, of sight and sound and touch bound into a vivid illusion of an instantaneous present, with a self, another brightly wrought illusion, hovering like a ghost at its centre. Could it ever be explained, how matter becomes conscious?" (page 262)3. There are a few interesting thoughts developed from his trip to the nursing home to visit his mother, who is suffering from dementia. She is fixated fondly on her deceased mother: "How strange it would have been for Lily's mother, an aloof, unmaternal woman, to have known that the little girl at her skirts would one day, in a remote future, a science fiction date in the next century, talk of her all the time and long to be home with her. Would that have softened her? (page 168) There was also an amusing observation by the main character that the mundane happenings of his day would be considered extremely exciting to his nursing home-bound mother.Okay, that's enough for now, but it's a beautiful and quick read, and I can see how this could spark a lot of discussion, so I'd recommend it. I'd especially recommend it to stone cold naturalists, of which I am one!
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I guess it speaks volumes that many days have passed since I finished Saturday and I really didn’t have too much to say about it. It was very well written—the story pulled me swiftly along until the end (once I finally committed to starting the novel). I liked the main character, Henry, well enough. Saturday made me realize what privileged lives we lead in the developed world. What passes for a bad day for Henry (minor car accident, bad squash game, visit to his mother with dementia, disagreement with his daughter, etc.) is really a pretty excellent day compared to most people in the world. He has a job that he loves and that pays well, he has a wife and two children that he loves, and he lives very comfortably. I have said before and will say again that many pets in North America live better than the majority of humans in the world. Now, there’s nothing wrong with providing good lives for our animals, but it should give one pause, should it not? Consumerism is the worm in the apple—as we exploit resources and contaminate the world where everyone has to live, can we really expect that there will be no resentment? When we “enjoy” capitalism and individualism and by doing so seem to devalue societies that are based on communal values and on having “enough”? Plus, there is great inequality within our own society—I heard on the CBC radio this morning that the top 1% of richest people will in 2015 own more than all the rest of us 99% all put together. And really, as Baxter, the criminal in Saturday, could attest, all the money in the world cannot give us some things—like our health. If I have come away with anything from Saturday, it is the determination to be less focused on things and more focused on the people in my life. For years, I’ve been giving tickets to events as gifts when possible—experiences, rather than something that needs to be stored or dusted. I’ve been down-sizing my life & my needs for years and this book just encourages me to keep pursuing that path.I guess I had more to say about this book that I thought I did.
Amanda Patterson
I took this book out of desperation. There seems to be so little good fiction out there at the moment. I wish I hadn’t. I began to hope that Saturday would become Sunday very quickly as I started to read. I think McEwan gets by on his literary accolades alone. Apparently he won the Booker Prize for Amsterdam in 1998. He has also written 8 other novels. I would dare another publisher to take him on under a pseudonym – and to succeed.McEwan, as always, dwells on the damage and darkness of life. Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon, awakes at dawn and sees a plane coming down trailing fire. It is also the morning of the antiwar march, the greatest ever massing of people on London’s streets. With 9/11 in the ether, McEwan couldn’t resist, could he? We are thrust into this awful man’s mental anguish and delight about almost everything. I was bored to tears. I felt no empathy whatsoever with Perowne or his wife, Rosalind and their poetry writing daughter, Daisy. I couldn’t have cared less about his game of squash with an anaesthetist colleague. Or his battles with tumours and trauma. I think that McEwan is laughing at the rest of the world when he writes. The pretentious changing of tenses and deliberate non-use of dialogue irritated me. I have to confess I did not finish the book. As one of Perowne’s own patients, heaven help her, might decide, life is too short.Reviewer: Amanda PattersonRating: 1/5
Like my (upcoming) review of Perdido Street Station, this was written as I went along. My mum told me to read this book just so that I've read something of McEwan's work, to get an idea of the East Anglia style -- I was once planning to do the same writing course.The first ten pages bored me. Blah, blah, blah, mostly medical procedure, a doctor's life is so busy, blahblahblah -- a scenario I know well as a doctor's daughter, that doesn't really seem to merit ten pages to me. It got old fast in real life; in print, it's even worse. The prose is quite ordinary, and lingers on topics I don't find particularly interesting: pages on pages about medical techniques, a couple of pages about the main character's son's music, a paragraph about the advances in kettles, pages in which the main character denounces the value of stories, half a chapter devoted to a squash game I couldn't care less about... Despite that, there's something about it that kept me reading. Something vaguely hypnotic. I didn't find it "dazzling... profound and urgent" as the cover promised. I found it dry, plodding, boring, stolid. By seventy-eight pages in, the guy hasn't left his home yet and the most exciting thing is the plane in flames, which is dismissed in about two pages, near the beginning.Strangely enough, I thought it did pick up near the end. Most of the drama was anti-climatic and sandwiched between pages and pages of irrelevant detail, but I tried to read it with the view that the book is meant to be about an ordinary guy going about his ordinary life. The prose mimics that, and the pages and pages of description enforce it. It took me ages to decide how many stars to give it. I'm not sure there was much to really like or dislike. The idea could have been interesting, but I'm not sure there's realistically a way to write about an ordinary man going through his mostly ordinary day in a way that keeps someone genuinely interested throughout. The build up was needed so you could care enough about the characters, but all the build up made me bored with them. I definitely don't think this is a "modern classic" or whatever. I don't think it has the strength to last.I might try something else of this guy's, to see if I like him better when he's not restricting himself to one day of an ordinary guy's life. Any recommendations?
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