A review of Saturday, by Ian McEwan.

I kinda wanted to post this on a different page, but failed. I am now waiting for my computer nerd friends to come online so they can tell me how to actually use wordpress. But enough of this foolishness.

In wrote September a review of a book called Saturday for an English teacher. He seemed to really like it, so I thought I’d pop it on here. Here we go:

I stumbled across Saturday in a second hand bookshop. I recognized the author (two of his books sat on my own shelf), and at a mere pound I thought “Why not?” I had a whole summer to occupy, after all.

It’s 2003. The protagonist, Henry Perowne, roused from his sleep by a feeling of unease, watches an aeroplane with a failing engine come down. Both his, and my, immediate suspicion was terrorism. I suppose my link was made in conjunction with the approaching anniversary of 9/11. Although the disaster didn’t seem relevant or threatening to me at the time; as a six year old I perceived it with a child’s indifference and lack of worldly wisdom. The Americans in a bit of a pickle, oceans away. Citizens pleading with British cameras, each tower tumbling inexorably to the ground in a shattered, shaken city. It’s taken ten years, and Saturday for this to hit me, to notice an ubiquitous consciousness of terrorism. A recent day in London, descending underground at Oxford Circus during rush hour, I thought “What if?” It would only take one backpack, belt or pocket to rip apart Oxford Street from beneath and wipe out the influx of passengers, all in the name of a God by whom I’d never been touched.

Perowne’s assumption about the plane was influenced by a march set to begin a few hours later, in protest of the invasion of Iraq. It is avoiding the march that brings Perowne into confrontation with Baxter, a key piece in, for me, another issue in the novel: ageing and morality.

Baxter is dying. His body is slowly being claimed by Huntingdon’s disease. He is young and prematurely waiting for death. Perhaps this fuels his aggression, or indeed a vulnerability which instills in him the need of company, or “sidekicks”, who are arguably the only things left that he has some degree of control over. Following a dispute, Baxter and another hanger-on intrude into Perowne’s home, brandishing knives; a reminder of how quickly, needlessly and easily life can be snatched from us by fellow human beings.

As a neurosurgeon, Perowne observes the symptoms of ageing every day, not only in the hospital, but by watching his own mother’s memory deteriorate at the hands of dementia. He feels them himself, too, and as he approaches fifty he acts in the only way he can; he fights the inevitable with gym shorts and a squash racket. The hobby of his youth seems to have become a struggle to prove himself –  he is desperate to win every game, which diminishes his enjoyment of the sport, rendering him bitter towards it. I’ve always liked to picture myself as an active, healthy old woman, often boasting rather prematurely that I’ll be “riding well into my eighties”, but perhaps Saturday has nudged me into the direction of scepticism. Perowne’s lead a reasonably healthy life – run marathons, kept the booze to a minimum, hasn’t smoked, yet an hour’s squash has lamed him. He’s not fifty yet.

What have I learned? Youth, and life in general, is the most valuable thing you can ever possess, but it can be snatched from you by fellow humans, disease, ageing – trifling matters. Apologies, Mr McEwan, if I’ve completely misinterpreted. But I suppose literature is what you make of it. And I did enjoy it, after all.


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