Thursday, July 07, 2011


Henry Perowne seems to have it all.  The neurosurgeon has a satisfying medical practice, two successfully raised adult children whose mother he still finds sexy, his dream car, and he lives in 4,000 square foot home in the heart of London (imagine what that must be worth).  Life has been good to him, and he has every reason to expect more of the same for a long time to come.  Henry, however, is about to receive one of those reality checks that life sometimes throws at even the best-prepared of us.

It all starts to come apart for him before daybreak on Saturday morning when, for a reason he cannot explain, Henry finds himself standing in front of his bedroom window just as a flaming airplane streaks across the sky on its way to an emergency Heathrow landing.  Because his first thoughts are of terrorism rather than mechanical failure, the sight reminds Henry how very different the post-9/11 world is from the world in which he raised his children and established his career.

Later, as he leaves the house to begin his day off, Henry has to make his way past thousands of protesters who are there to protest Britain’s decision to join the U.S. in its fast-approaching war against Iraq.  When he finds a policeman willing to let him save time by driving across a cordoned off section of road, Henry jumps at the chance – only to drive right into a minor fender-bender that will haunt him for the rest of his life.  The other driver, whom Henry is about to meet for the first time, will figure prominently in the book’s climax.

Saturday, though, is not a plot-driven book.  McEwan has, instead, invited his readers to spend a day inside the head of his main character, Henry Perowne.  Perowne is a relatively conservative man, much to the dismay, at times, of his daughter.  The two, for instance, vehemently disagree on the necessity and morality of the upcoming war with Iraq, even to the point of an argument that ends with her in tears.  We are witness to the strong bond between Henry and his son, one centered on their mutual love of American jazz, and to the pride that Henry takes in his wife’s professional successes.

But McEwan offers more than that.  We are given a glimpse into the mindset of a man who, now that he has made it, is finally beginning to wonder what drives the people he encounters at home, at the hospital, and during his leisure time.  Henry is a solitary man, dependent on no one, but he is about to find how unprepared he is when it comes to having the skills and instincts sometimes required if one is to survive in the real world, a world in which there is always someone willing to take what they want if one is too weak to stop them.

Ian McEwan is a master and a craftsman - in the positive sense, that he has constructed a novel here, layer by layer, which very subtly, almost stealthily, immerses the reader into the world he has created for them.  It is a world, a lifestyle, and a family, which I will long remember.

Rated at: 5.0


  1. This one was a very odd one for me. It is definitely a unique book and you are very right, I will always remember it! :)

    Great review!

  2. While I greatly admire McEwan's prose, the scenario in Saturday was ludicrous. First, to have all of that happen to Perowne in just one day is implausible enough, but even worse is how his daughter subdues the intruder with poetry (akin to "music soothing the savage beast") and how it's Perowne himself who performs emergency brain surgery on a man who just earlier was intent on killing the entire Perowne family. Sorry, not buying any of it.

  3. Andy, sounds like you didn't much "enjoy" this one.

  4. Pete, I don't agree with some of what you say here.

    For instance, the daughter's poetry reading had an unexpected effect on the villain because of the brain disease he suffered from, one that leads to suggestible and very sudden mood swings. i think that explains what happened that day as regards his complete change of attitude regarding rape and worse.

    I can also see how the brain surgery might have happened...the bad guy was taken to the nearest hospital, I that just happens to be in his victim's neighborhood (home invasion, after all) where the "expert" at that kind of surgery turns out to be his very victim. He was on call for especially complicated cases and he got the call from a staff completely unaware of the relationship between him and the patient.

    As for his day...yeah, that's a lot for one man to have happen in a day, but far from impossible.

    I don't find this plot to be any more unlikely than dozens of other books I have read in recent years.

    Thanks for your comments...much appreciated.

  5. I'm glad you gave this a good review. I did it as an audio book during my commuting time. The prose is delicious and I savored the extremely detailed day. Plausibility wasn't a problem for me but I can see how it would be stretching reality for others. This book, more so than Atonement, made me a McEwan fan.

  6. Libby, what makes the day plausible for me is that one surprising incident seemed to lead directly to the next, often as not. This was far from an ordinary day in the doctor's life, so I can see how he would have had the endurance to pull it off...once.

    I've only read this one and Atonement, myself, but I'm going to read more of McEwan in the future. I love his prose and characters.

  7. Agreed, Sam.
    What a terrific review. I loved Saturday as I have loved all of McEwan's novels, my favorite probably being On Chesil Beach. His short stories elude me, but I think he is a genius at the novel. With him, it's always about little antecedent events that lead to an overwhelming crisis. One of my fave-authors, and you've written such an across-the-gamut yet unspoilered review.
    You make me want to re-read the thing.

  8. Thanks, Cip. Sounds like I need to finally get to "On Chesil Beach." Too damned many great books out there...