Saturday by Ian McEwen



Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (1 of 25), Read 95 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Sherry Keller 

Date: Sunday, October 16, 2005 09:02 AM


Will somebody please start the discussion? I'm only on about page 16 (bad me!).


Sherry


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (2 of 25), Read 87 times

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From: Jane Niemeier 

Date: Sunday, October 16, 2005 03:31 PM


This book really follows its title in that it is about one particular Saturday, that being Saturday, February 15, 2003. The narrator is Henry Perowne, a man who seems to have the perfect life. He loves his wife and still thinks that she is beautiful, and he has two talented grown-up children. He is a successful neurosurgeon, and he lives in a gorgeous house in London.


I really enjoyed the book. I liked the fact that Henry was considering both the anti-war side and the pro-war side of invading Iraq. He wasn't quite sure what to think on this particular Saturday. If he were a real person, what would he think of the war now, more than two years later?


I also liked the fact that one minor incident like a traffic accident can have a huge impact on your life. With hindsight, Henry wished that he had done things differently. What would you have done in a similar situation? paid the money, let yourself get beaten up, run like hell?


The scene at the end when Baxter shows up at the house is truly terrifying. Do you think that Henry should have excused himself from doing the surgery on Baxter? How will the lives of the family members change after their awful experience?


Jane


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (3 of 25), Read 80 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Jane Niemeier 

Date: Monday, October 17, 2005 02:56 PM


Students!


You have not been doing your homework! Has anyone read this besides me? I thought it was an excellent book.


Jane


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (4 of 25), Read 77 times

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From: R Bavetta 

Date: Monday, October 17, 2005 03:18 PM


Teacher, teacher, I did my homework. I just didn't turn it in on time because I was gone most of yesterday.


I liked the book, too, altho I have to admit my interest flagged during some of the protracted sessions of mulling by Henry.


Perhaps because there were so many recent events mentioned, or perhaps because of the plethora of bouts of at least semi-philosphical mullification, I kept trying to find some kind of over-arching theme for the book, some kind of point McEwan was getting at, some raison d'etre for our spending every inch of Saturday with Henry.


What are others' thoughts on this? Did you find something?

R



"Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun." Pablo Picasso


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (5 of 25), Read 79 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Dale Short 

Date: Monday, October 17, 2005 03:52 PM


Jane: I was itching to read this one, but the dog ate my copy, and...wait. We don't have a dog.


SATURDAY is, however, on hold for me at the library and I hope to join in soon. I have tremendous admiration for McEwan's talent. His ATONEMENT is on my all-time Top 10 list, and I was very taken with the excerpt from his newest that I read in The New Yorker.





>>Dale in Ala.


http://www.writerstoolkit.com


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (6 of 25), Read 74 times

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From: Katharine Higgins 

Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 12:37 AM


I really liked this book. I thought it was credible, honest, interesting and

compelling. The first thing I noticed was how carefully it was constructed. Although the plot was thin, the characters made the story real. Saturday is a stark portrayal of the anxieties that haunt all of us at the dawn of the 21st Century.


The main character, Henry Perowne, is a man of intelligence and skill, who would probably agree with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living, and it is precisely his observations on the uncertainties of modern life that make him such a compelling character. We mostly see him in his profession as neurosurgeon, but also as husband, father, son, and colleague.


The story revolves around the unintended consequences of a minor traffic accident on a Saturday morning in February 2003, as throngs of people are gathering in London for a protest march against the Iraq invasion. Streets are closed and the police are occupied with the crowds.





***************Spoiler Alert**************





About to be assaulted by three toughs, Henry notices the telltale symptoms of a progressive neurological disease in the leader, and is able to diagnose his way out of a tight situation, only to have it come back to haunt his whole family that evening. Although the denouement was rather implausible, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.


Although never stated, there seemed to me to be a parallel track running through this novel: what was happening at the micro level in Henry’s personal life was mirrored at the macro level by events in the world.


When Henry described the car incident to his son, his son was somewhat sympathetic to Baxter because of his handicap. He even suggested to his father that he might have taken advantage of the situation because of his specialized medical knowledge and that he had humiliated Baxter. Was this the cause of Baxter’s retaliation later that evening?


If you accept that, would you also buy into the rationale that holds the rich nations responsible for terrorism because they have exploited and humiliated the poor nations who are thus justified in seeking revenge? I do not buy into it myself, but it certainly occured to me as the protest march looms in the background, and as Henry has spirited arguments about the war. It was a pleasure to consider the questions raised by Ian McEwan in this rich, complex and provocative novel.


In answer to Jane’s question, I think it was probably unwise and perhaps unethical to have participated in the surgery on Baxter at the hospital. Under the circumstances, a “negative outcome” would have been very hard to explain…

Katy Higgins








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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (7 of 25), Read 75 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Ricki Bull 

Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 10:31 AM


I liked the book - I thought the characters were believable - Henry had depth and was both changed by and was an active proponent of change in his Saturday. It was a bit slow to get into at the beginning for some reason but i couldn't put it down after about halfway. As to the impact of the events on the characters lives.... that's a long one. Will get into the discussion more after thursday - we are having a school inspection for the next 2 days and the brain has become numb.


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (8 of 25), Read 72 times

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From: Barbara Moors

Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 09:27 PM


I just read the last page tonight and enjoyed this enormously. I, too, kept trying to figure out the connections McEwan was trying to make between the war in Iraq and the incident with Baxter. It's hard for me to believe that McEwan chose the Saturday of the demonstration for no reason. The rich nation/poor nation idea is an interesting one, Katy. It usually takes me days to mull over these things after I read a book.


One theme of the book seemed to me to be forgiveness and taking responsibility for one's actions. I think that is why McEwan chose to have Perowne do the surgery. He says: And here is one area where Henry can exercise authority and shape events. He knows how the system works--the difference between good and bad care is near-infinite. It was the place that he could control and the place that he could make a difference. It works in the structure of the book. It distracted me though because it seemed unlikely. However, perhaps, my attitude toward it is influenced by our health care system. In a national system like England's, maybe people wouldn't be so likely to leap to question his motives. It also occurred to me that a Baxter in the U.S. might not have access to this talented a surgeon in any case.


Barb



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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (9 of 25), Read 70 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Barbara Moors 

Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 09:39 PM


And, of course, I have to google around to see what else I can find out about this book online. The following is just a small part of an interview with McEwan by Zadie Smith. You have to buy the publication to get the rest of it. But, you can also read Smith's description to going to McEwan's wedding party when she was an undergraduate if you go to the site where I got it:


http://www.believermag.com/issues/200508/?read=interview_mcewan


We did this interview in McEwan’s house, which is Dr. Henry Perowne’s house in the novel Saturday (2005). It is a lovely Georgian townhouse that sits in the shadow of London’s BT Tower. From the balcony of this house Perowne sees a plane on a crash trajectory, its tail on fire. It is a perfect McEwanesque incident.


—Zadie Smith



*

ZADIE SMITH: ... there’s a paragraph in Saturday about surgery, apparently, but it seems to me to be about writing.


IAN McEWAN: Oh, well done.


ZS: I read it and thought it can’t be about anything else. You know the paragraph I mean? “For the past two hours he’s been in a dream of absorption”—it’s such an exact description of what it’s like to write when it’s going well. And my favorite line is when you talk about him feeling “calm and spacious, fully qualified to exist. It’s a feeling of clarified emptiness, of deep, muted joy.” The events you put next to it, as comparative experiences—the lovemaking and listening to Theo’s song—are two human states which are often advertised as bringing similar pleasure: basically, personal relations and art. But the book seems to suggests that there is a deeper happiness that one can only find in work, or at least, creative work. And I felt that joy coming off the book in every direction. Joy at being a writer!


IM: I’m glad that you found that paragraph. I knew I wanted to write a major operation at the end but it would really be about writing, about making art. So it starts with him picking up a paintbrush. Or rather, I was so sure, when I went for the operation, that Neil Pritchard, the surgeon, when he paints the marks on the patient, was using a two-inch paintbrush. And when I sent him the last draft, just to check it one last time he said, “I don’t use a paintbrush,” and I said, “But surely surgeons do,” and he said “No, no.” I was so disappointed personally. He dips the paintbrush in yellow paint and as the Aria of the Goldberg Variations starts, he makes his first stroke and it is a moment of artistic engagement… But very, very reluctantly I had to replace it with a sponge on a flap.


ZS: The joy of the extended analogy is that it allows you to write about writing as work. Usually when you read books about being a novelist, all you really get is the character at lunches and his publishing routines, and that’s nothing to do with the process of writing. It’s so hard to sit down and write about that procedure, but I feel that metaphorically it’s done here.


IM: The dream, surely, Zadie, that we all have, is to write this beautiful paragraph that actually is describing something but at the same time in another voice is writing a commentary on its own creation, without having to be a story about a writer.


I understood Perowne's love for his work. McEwan really makes you feel it. But, I didn't connect it to the act of writing, did you? And, I loved knowing that Perowne's house is McEwan's.


Barb



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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (10 of 25), Read 73 times

Conf: Reading List

From: R Bavetta 

Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 09:59 PM


Barb, I kept trying to find the connection between the Baxter affair and the demonstration, too. I have a feeling if we could make that connection we'd find the real heart of the book


As far as the writing/surgery paragraphs. What McEwan is describing there is what is usually called the "flow." And it can happen doing anything you become completely absorbed in and in which things are going well. I've had it happen in writing and in painting. I'll bet Leif has had it happen in surgery. I'm sure there are other activities, especially athletic, where it happens. Oh, and playing music.


R




"Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun." Pablo Picasso


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (11 of 25), Read 68 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Barbara Moors 

Date: Wednesday, October 19, 2005 07:14 AM


You know, believe it or not, it happens in teaching. It may be a bit more fragile since it's a cooperative event but I know that exact feeling. It's part of the reason why I haven't retired as yet.


And, I'm going to be interested to see how others see that connection between the demonstrations against the war in Iraq and the event with Baxter.


Barb


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (12 of 25), Read 63 times

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From: Ricki Bull 

Date: Thursday, October 20, 2005 09:40 AM


I think the demonstration, the plane and Baxter are all various forms of menace in the book - the demonstration in the size of the mass of people involved (in the background), the plane as he believed it to be menacing as he saw it in the night sky and Baxter was the individual who made a personal menacing presence in his life. From what I gather from looking through the net, McEwan wasn't really ambivalent to the war - see the quote below from an interview with him:


I never thought that in the run up to the war we were discussing simply the difference between war and peace. We were discussing the difference between war and continued torture and genocide and abuse of human rights by a fascist state. I missed any sense of that complexity in the peace camp. I certainly had the feeling that whatever the strong moral arguments were for deposing Saddam, the Americans would not be good nation-builders. But I had a moral problem with this view among the 2 million protesters that you should leave Saddam in power in a fascist state with 27 million Iraqis under him. The problem is that they felt good about it. I thought they should have opposed the war but also felt bad about it.


http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,365767,00.html


I wondered whether the ending of the story was suggestive of his working out his way of dealing with the political realities in the world around him (as well most likely as other realities)


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (13 of 25), Read 56 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Barbara Moors

Date: Friday, October 21, 2005 06:08 PM


Here's another section from an interview with McEwan. I particularly like the last paragraph in relationship to our questions about the war in Iraq and the incident with Baxter. But, I didn't feel like I could post that paragraph without a little bit of the rest:


"One of the great clichés of novel writing is that pleasure and happiness don't make good subjects. We are enormous compartmentalisers; we may have huge anxieties about Africa or Iraq, but at the same time be having a marvellous time, be very interested and content in our work or our private life. Some of the pleasures I wanted to get into the book were preparing a meal, hanging out with your teenage children, listening to music, having sex and playing squash. I wanted to investigate the notion of whether these things were impossible to write about.


"Another ambition of mine was to write a novel that was work-based, because too many novels seem to ignore the fact that people work: that it's a defining activity, a source of pleasure and obsession and self-esteem.


"I've rather stacked the cards. I thought, 'What would happen if you've got a man who is not about to get divorced or disastrously fall in love and wreck his life, who doesn't have a terminal disease and is not alienated, whose children are not drug addicts and who has a pleasing relationship with his wife?' You can concentrate them on how the world invades your private space--how you can have all these happy things in your life and still not have complete happiness, because you are connected to everyone else.


"In the story of Perowne's conflict with Baxter, I had in mind something about the randomness and unpredictability of events, and how the future is almost impossible to manipulate, even on the very private and personal level. If you get into a confrontation on the street, you only have to think that Iraq is like that, multiplied 20 million times. Then, as Perowne thinks to himself, events can spin out of control.


From: http://www.thebookseller.com/?pid=84&did=14287


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (14 of 25), Read 56 times

Conf: Reading List

From: R Bavetta

Date: Friday, October 21, 2005 06:24 PM


Oh I like that quote, Barb. It made the whole novel kind of fall into place for me.

R



"Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun." Pablo Picasso


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (15 of 25), Read 57 times

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From: Jane Niemeier 

Date: Saturday, October 22, 2005 11:22 AM


Barb,

Thanks for posting those quotes. What he says about happiness is so true as we have all found out lately with these hurricanes impacting all of our lives. You want to live in your own little happy world, but the big world is out there pounding on the door.

Jane


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (16 of 25), Read 59 times

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From: Pres Lancaster 

Date: Saturday, October 22, 2005 11:40 AM


DITTO !


pres,


following the baguette across the road.


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (17 of 25), Read 61 times

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From: Barbara Moors 

Date: Sunday, October 23, 2005 09:51 AM


Oh good, it felt that way for me too.


Barb


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (18 of 25), Read 48 times

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From: Dale Short 

Date: Monday, October 31, 2005 10:28 AM


I was supposed to pick SATURDAY up at the library on Saturday, but ran late. I plan to pick it up today, and hope to finish reading it by, ah, Saturday.





>>Dale in Ala.


http://www.writerstoolkit.com


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (19 of 25), Read 47 times

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From: Sherry Keller 

Date: Tuesday, November 01, 2005 03:57 PM


I just finished Saturday and what I came away with was beautifully illustrated in the quotation Barb cited. Here's a man who actually loves his wife and no other. He has a wonderful, although complex, relationship with his children. Many typical novels are about atypical situations; here's an atypical one about a typical life. Even though not too many people are neurosurgeons, most people have ordinary lives, and we can relate to the ordinary aspects of his life. He's obviously a moral man with dilemmas, which makes him so very human and easy to identify with.


Sherry


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (20 of 25), Read 38 times

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From: Robert Armstrong 

Date: Thursday, November 10, 2005 12:53 AM


Ian McEwan sure doesn’t subscribe to the Dan Brown school of novel construction. I admire McEwan dismissing the need for a hook. Yet, I struggled with going through Henry’s day in such minute detail given the many demands of my own day to distract me from the novel. Hence it took me over a month to get through one fictional day. If it weren’t for Atonement, which was such a great read, I wouldn’t have persevered. I remember having a hard time getting into Briony’s hot, petulant day at the beginning of that novel, too, before it won me over. Saturday did eventually hook me, but I confess I was yearning for more plot. Otherwise, his writing is impeccable: fluid, lucid, non-fictionesque verisimilitude, and researched beyond reproach. Medicine, squash, and blues especially. And shimmering with insight and love of life. It is unusual to have normal fulfillment articulated so well.


I thought Henry’s Saturday was a perfect microcosm of the macrocosmic conflicts of the 21st century. Television news is so surreal. Today there were multiple hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan. Within the last year there have been so many outrageous images that I’m nearly numb from the little electronic Coliseum in my living room. We live our daily lives with this constant, ambient threat of terror and I keep wondering when it will come into my home. And that’s just what McEwan imagines, even using his own house as the model for the Perowne’s domestic nightmare. The upside of McEwan’s choice to detail the day so thoroughly is that the violence, when it comes, takes on a greater reality in that it feels surreal like these things do, juxtaposed to the rivalry of a squash match or the process of making dinner. The Baxter revenge scene was hyper-real to me and riveting in good part because of the lead up. God knows I paid my dues. But it was worth it, I’ll grudgingly admit.


Robt


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (21 of 25), Read 34 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Sherry Keller 

Date: Thursday, November 10, 2005 06:52 AM


A really insightful note, Robt. Thanks for persevering and letting us in on your final thoughts.


Sherry


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (22 of 25), Read 40 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Dale Short 

Date: Thursday, November 10, 2005 09:14 AM


Robt: Great note. I'm at the front end of SATURDAY, just a chapter or so in, and I very much agree about the impeccable writing.


I was marveling last night at how completely McEwan ignores, here, so much of the advice that fiction writers are given in workshops...i.e., beginning a story with the internal monologue of an "ordinary" character on an "ordinary" day when nothing of significance is happening is a guaranteed recipe for boredom and losing readers. Intead we're told to begin in medias res, in the middle of some crucial conflict, and then transition back and forth in time to lay the groundwork for how the protagonist got into this pinch.


And yet, this ordinariness has me riveted. Highly realistic but somehow with a hint of surreality and a sense of unseen menace. Heck of a writer, this McEwan.


Speaking of menace, though, the possible plane crash that Henry sees out his window at the beginning seems to have completely dropped off the story's radar (OK, bad pun) for the present. Does this thread resurface at some point? Just curious.




>>Dale in Ala.


http://www.writerstoolkit.com


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (23 of 25), Read 39 times

Conf: Reading List

From: Robert Armstrong

Date: Thursday, November 10, 2005 09:22 AM


Dale,


Yes, the falling plane resurfaces. I look forward to your hit on this novel.


Robt


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (24 of 25), Read 36 times

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From: Barbara Moors 

Date: Sunday, November 13, 2005 12:56 PM


I’m nearly numb from the little electronic Coliseum in my living room...wow, Robt, what perfect description!


Barb


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Topic: Saturday by Ian McEwan (25 of 25), Read 4 times

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From: Dale Short 

Date: Sunday, November 27, 2005 03:44 PM


I hope this thread is still around when I'm finished reading SATURDAY.


I'm 80 pages in, and the violent incident that propels the story has not quite happened yet. But the intensity of the main character, and the quality of McEwan's writing, keep pulling me through.




>>Dale in Ala.


http://www.writerstoolkit.com