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