I wasn’t surprised to learn after finishing Saturday that it’s one of McEwan’s least plot-based books. If I had known this beforehand I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It was definitely tedious and exhausting reading at times.
Saturday covers a 24-hour period in the life of Henry Perowne, a middle-aged neurosurgeon living in post-9/11, pre-Iraq war London. It’s really a character-driven novel, made up of the minute and significant musings of Henry over EVERYTHING in his life, including his car accident, politics, Al Qaeda, poetry, jazz music, squash, fish, the meaning of life, and most of all, neurology. The page(s)-long paragraph, stream of consciousness writing style was hit or miss for me. I enjoyed getting as close as you can to actually watching a live squash game by reading McEwan’s play-by-play commentating prose. Yet Henry’s visit at the fish market was so painfully detailed when I was anxious for the plot to move along that I had to put the book down. And sometimes the amount of detail even felt both exclusive in a “you have to be there (or be a professional) to understand” sort of way and excruciating. One example of this is the medical jargon that Henry uses throughout the book to explain his work in the hospital and understand his life outside the hospital.
That said, the less impressive as well as the more dramatic happenings of Henry come together cohesively in the action-packed final 80 pages. As always, McEwan has created living, breathing characters that leap off the page. Yet this time he’s also created a work which is very much of our times. The loving relationships between husband and wife and parent and child were real. Henry’s thoughts about his mother’s diminishing existence as a result of dementia were especially poignant. You got to hand it to him for having the talent to write with such precision and grace about mundane, everyday subjects, even if it sometimes worked to his disadvantage in this book.