Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Saturday by Ian McEwan

This novel from the author of Atonement weaves the story of one man's day, a Saturday to be precise, and the strange series of events he encounters.  Henry Perowne is a neurosurgeon in London, and his meticulous routine is disrupted on this particular day by various invasions of the outside world and its accompanying violence.  We also meet Henry's family, and in the brief space of the prose, get an incredibly clear portrait of each member without the sense that McEwan is dwelling on unnecessary details.

Reading the second book by an author you've read before is always a challenge, because it's so tempting to compare the two works.  Naturally, Atonement was never far from my mind as I made my way through Saturday.  McEwan still has some tendencies I'm not crazy about-- for instance, his penchant for lengthy descriptions of things with which I'm not terribly concerned (see the multi-page depiction of a squatch match in the latter book, an incredibly difficult thing to sit through).

It takes a lot of skill to spend a few hundred pages detailing one 24-hour period, but McEwan does it with tremendous skill and a lot of poignant insight.  I guess I'm a bigger fan of introspection than I consciously realize, because I found myself instinctively comparing this to Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and finding that I liked Saturday better because there is so much more exploration of why the protagonist is doing what he's doing, and what it all means in the grand scheme of things.  I liked that McEwan essentially made his point and got out, delivering some beautiful articulations of the story's themes without dissolving into a lot of waxing poetic.

This is the best of the books I've read so far this summer, but there is always room for improvement!

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