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Book Notes 6: Saturday by Ian McEwan

This is an interesting one: another Booker nominee, if I’m not very much mistaken, and a strange and masterful work. It is a portrait of a single day in the life of its protagonist, one Henry Perowne, a successful neurosurgeon.

For a large part of the novel there is essentially no plot as such. Indeed you could probably argue that the whole thing has no plot; though things happen early in the day that have consequences later in the day. But despite the exiling of plot — of story itself, you might say — to the background, this is an immensely compelling work.

Such is the quality of the writing (I can only assume: I can’t honestly say that I understand how he does it) that the small and largely insignificant actions of one man and his family, and the musings of that man (it is a third-person narrative, but with only a single viewpoint; it is exclusively focalised on/through Perowne) command the attention and require the turning of pages.

This is great, really great; and the characters are endearing enough that I want to know what happened to them afterwards: indeed, what is still happening to them now.

Everything I’ve ever read about this book makes quite a big thing of the Saturday in question being the one of the big anti-(Iraq) war demo in London (and around the world). But in fact that is only really a very minor physical background to an early chapter. Certainly it provides fuel for Perowne’s thoughts, and for a heated discussion with his daughter; but the fact of it happening on that day is not really significant. Which makes me wonder whether he only did it as an attention-grabbing device, much as Banksie did when he set the first chapter of Dead Air on the 11th of September, 2001. Still, there’s nothing wrong with grabbing the reader’s attention, as long as the device is integrated fully into the story, and doesn’t jar with the narrative: and such is the case here.

[tags]books, book notes 2006, reviews, this year’s reading, ian mcewan, “Saturday”, booker nominees[/tags]

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