Monday, June 12, 2006

Saturday by Ian McEwan

I recently finished Saturday, by Ian McEwan. I consider his book, Atonement, one of my favorite novels. So I was intrigued to read another piece of his work.

Saturday is set in London post 9/11 and just before the war with Iraq. The events take place on one Saturday and are told from a neurosurgeon's point-of-view. Henry Perowne is happily married with two artistic children--a poet and a blues musician. His cherished Saturday begins early when he awakens and views a burning plane make an emergency landing. We follow him as he interacts with his children and wife, plays a mean (and long) game of squash, shops for dinner, and cooks a fish stew for a family dinner. (Yes, he even cooks.) This typical Saturday is laced with conflict brought about by a random encounter with a less-fortunate street guy--a tough guy whose Huntington’s Disease the neurosurgeon readily diagnoses in the middle of road rage in the streets of London.

I admit that I was not immediately hooked by the story. The characters, however, and the choreography are finely drawn. And I did feel my pulse race as McEwan built tension and suspense into the narrative. Any book that elevates my heart rate is doing something right.

This book made the New York Times top ten books of 2005. Indeed it does capture modern life and a thoroughly recognizable attempt to "make sense" of a world on the brink of war.

Memorable Quotes

(page numbers from paperback First Anchor Books Edition, April 2006)

The primitive thinking of the supernaturally inclined amounts to what his psychiatric colleagues call a problem, or an idea, of reference. An excess of the subjective, the ordering of the world in line with your needs, an inability to contemplate your own unimportance. ( p 17)

She remained in silent contact with an imaginary intimate. (p 48)

Happiness seemed like a betrayal of principle, but happiness was unavoidable. (p 49)

This reading list persuaded Perowne that the supernatural was the recourse of an insufficient imagination, a dereliction of duty, a childish evasion of the difficulties and wonders of the real, of the demanding re-enactment of the plausible. (p 66)

Work that you cannot begin to imagine achieving yourself, that displays a ruthless, nearly inhuman element of self-enclosed perfection—this is his idea of genius. This notion of Daisy’s, that people can’t “live” without stories, is simply not true. He is living proof.

There is much in human affairs that can be accounted for at the level of the complex molecule. Who could eve reckon up the damage done to love and friendship and all hopes of happiness by a surfeit or depletion of this or that neurotransmitter? And who will ever find a morality, an ethics down among the enzymes and amino acids when the general taste is for looking in the other direction? (p 92)

There are so many ways a brain can let you down. Like an expensive car, it’s intricate, but mass-produced nevertheless, with more than six billion in circulation. (p 99)

A race of extraterrestrial grown-ups is needed to set right the general disorder, then put everyone to bed for an early night. God was once supposed to be a grown-up, but in disputes He childishly took sides. Then sending us an actual child, one of His own—the last thing we needed. A spinning rock already swarming with orphans. . . (p 122)

It isn’t rationalism that will overcome the religious zealots, but ordinary shopping and all it entails—jobs for a start, and peace, and some commitment to realizable pleasures, the promise of appetites sated in this world, not the next. Rather shop than pray. (p 127)

Unlike in Daisy’s novels, moments of precise reckoning are rare in real life; questions of misinterpretation are not often resolved. Nor do they remain pressingly unresolved. They simple fade. People don’t remember clearly, or they die, or the questions die and new ones take their place. (p 159)

There are these rare moments when musicians together touch something sweeter than they’ve ever found before in rehearsals or performance, beyond the merely collaborative or technically proficient, when their expression becomes as easy and graceful as friendship or love. This is when they give us a glimpse of what we might be, of our best selves, and of an impossible world in which you give everything you have to others, but lose nothing of yourself. (p 176)

When there are no consequences, being wrong is simply an interesting diversion. (p 198)

Useful Link
Ian McEwan's Website: Saturday
(Includes a reading guide, reviews of the book AND a recipe for the Fish Stew)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ok, you're the second person to rave about 'Atonement' (DJF being the first) so now i guess i'll have to give it a shot...