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Saturday: A novel Hardcover – March 22, 2005

3.4 out of 5 stars 435 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the predawn sky on a Saturday morning, London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne sees a plane with a wing afire streaking toward Heathrow. His first thought is terrorism--especially since this is the day of a public demonstration against the pending Iraq war. Eventually, danger to Perowne and his family will come from another source, but the plane, like the balloon in the first scene of Enduring Love, turns out to be a harbinger of a world forever changed. Meanwhile, the reader follows Perowne through his day, mainly via an interior monologue. His cerebral peregrination records, in turn, the meticulous details of brain surgery, a car accident followed by a confrontation with a hoodlum, a far-from-routine squash game, a visit to Perowne's mother in a nursing home and a family reunion. It is during the latter event, at the end of the day, that the ominous pall that has hovered over the narrative explodes into violence, and Perowne's sense that the world has become "a commuity of anxiety" plays out in suspense, delusion, heroism and reconciliation. The tension throughout the novel between science (Perowne's surgery) and art (his daughter is a poet; his son a musician) culminates in a synthesis of the two, and a grave, hopeful, meaningful, transcendent ending. If this novel is not as complex a work as McEwan's bestselling Atonement, it is nonetheless a wise and poignant portrait of the way we live now. (Mar. 22)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

As McEwan writers, “When anything can happen, everything matters.” Saturday magnifies a pivotal moment in history and a day in a man’s life as secure foundations crack and uncertainty rushes in. While critics cited different overriding themes, Saturday explores ideas of fate and purpose, life’s fragility, revelation, and terror at all levels of society. McEwan, an enduring talent in Britain combines “literary seriousness” with a “momentum more commonly associated with genre fiction.” The result is an intricate, captivating novel defined by a “serene tension” that erupts into a dark reality despite its hero’s optimism (New York Times Book Review).

McEwan brilliantly builds many layers of reality from small details. Henry-a sympathetic, if conflicted, character-knows he can examine people’s brains, but not understand their minds. His ruminations on surgery, lovemaking, music, war (he’s pro-war), and literature (he’s clueless) rise to a crescendo as he slowly questions his own motives and actions. In dazzling, authoritative prose, McEwan depicts this growing anxiety with a calmness that is soon violated.

Despite its appeal on both sides of the Atlantic, a few reviewers thought McEwan’s intricate plotting and slow, dark suspense was too structured. The novel’s explicit messages deprive the reader of “feeling, rather than coolly registering, the author’s intention” (New York Times Book Review). Yet, in the end, most critics agree that Saturday is both a substantial work of literature by one of Britain’s greatest minds and a powerful piece of post-9/11 fiction.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1st edition (April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385511809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385511803
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (435 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #611,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children's novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His other award-winning novels are The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, and Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In the middle of the night, Henry Perowne, a 48-year-old neurosurgeon, awakens for no apparent reason and sees what he thinks, at first, is a meteor, but the object brightens, moves faster, and blazes through the skies at low altitude--a plane on fire, approaching Heathrow. In intensely realized descriptions, Henry thinks about this dramatic event and reacts and shares the most intimate aspects of his existence, drawing the reader into his life. Every action, thought, and question about life, fate, and destiny is articulated as Henry struggles to make sense of this one day in his life and see it in a philosophical context.

Happily married to Rosalind, a lawyer for a newspaper, Henry has two remarkably creative children--one a blues musician and the other a poet. Through their lives, he recognizes that his own preoccupation with science and reality has left him incomplete. He has come to believe that "there [is] more to life than merely saving lives," and he yearns to find a complete, "coherent world, everything fitting at last."

As the day progresses, Henry fixates on the plane accident, possible terrorism, the imminent war with Iraq, and a traffic accident resulting in an altercation with a thug. But throughout this "action," Henry is contemplating his relationships with the world at large, trying to understand his place within it. Having rejected organized religion, he finds some comfort in the conclusions of Darwin, who connects all life in a continuum in which he sees himself a part.

As he thinks of his own parents and children, he also observes contrasts in the world around him, people whose lives are different, not because of any inherent difference but simply because of chance--"the currents that alter fates.
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Format: Hardcover
You'll have no problem reading Saturday. There's nothing difficult about it. Indeed, as usual with McEwan, you won't be able to remember one phrase, or even word, a week after reading it. Surely the best novelist in England should be leaving something memorable behind him?

And then there are the characters. It's not surprising all those politicians thought Saturday was the book of the year. The protagonist is living the life they all hanker after. He's living the life of McEwan himself, basically, with the exception of the brain surgery bits which have been clumsily grafted on to mask the autobiographical element, and also to invite eulogies pivoting around the surgeon's incision / the novelist's incision.

Now those characters. Lead: most gifted brain surgeon of his generation. Daughter: most gifted poet of her generation. Son: most gifted musician of his generation. Father-in-law: most gifted poet of his generation. Mother: most gifted swimmer in her county. Wife: a top lawyer (incredibly not the most gifted lawyer of her generation, as far as we know anyway). Does this sound like any family you know? Me neither. I appreciate he's drawing a picture of privilege, but he's also inviting us to admire and like these people, and they're all so horridly smug it's unbearable. I actually felt delighted when the edifice was shattered, and disappointed that calm was restored so effortlessly - can that be the desired effect?

And the details.
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Format: Hardcover
This day in the life of a moral, conscientious man serves as a metaphor for the quality of a man's life, how unexpected violence may disrupt and injure, but not destroy. London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne sets out on his Saturday with a full schedule and a brimming mind, much of his internal musing triggered by the events of 9/11, the incipient war with Iraq and a massive anti-war demonstration taking place that day to protest Bush's potential attack on Iraq: "Saturday's he's accustomed to being thoughtlessly content..."

Perowne carries on an inner dialog made more complex by current events, though always engaged in thoughts of his patients and family, perhaps recently with a sharper edge, a poignancy, a nod to the random destruction that has become part of the new world landscape. A minor accident triggers a chain of events, so unexpected that Perowne is blindsided by his own lack of foresight. This one day becomes a metaphor for what has so recently stunned the world and left it shaken. Like a country attacked on a bright New York day, Perowne, and by extension his family, are briefly assaulted, then left to deal with the repercussions of violence.

The well-trained, educated brain screams danger, but the acculturated man is still in shock, unable to adapt to quickly changing circumstances: "Questions of misinterpretations are not often resolved." Facing imminent danger to himself and to his family, Perowne cannot make his precise mind plan, his mental calculations serving instead as stumbling blocks for extricating the family from a volatile situation.

I find it fascinating that the author's protagonist is a neurosurgeon, for McEwan writes with the precision of a surgeon, his novel as brilliantly structured as Perowne's mind.
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