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Ian McEwan’s Saturday is in my opinion one of the finest novels to be written in the past twenty years by any English author. (Of course, there’s always the ‘Who me?’. I accept that!) In the noughties, McEwan was on an extraordinary roll with his well-received novel Atonement exploring in a seriously imaginative way the meaning of misunderstanding and betrayal. Joe Wright's film of the book was critically aclaimed, and rightly so. McEwan's follow up to Saturday , Chesil Beach , by contrast took the form of a close-focus 'miniature' which skilfully explored not only a seriously doomed honeymoon, but also the precarious nature of all human relationships over time.

However, for me,
Saturday is where McEwan's literary talent became wholly convincing. First though, I must confess that I have a vested interest in the novel (I was a bit player in the book’s drama and in a sense still am. However, I must not indulge in an excursus in this ‘appreciation’. Instead I simply want to flag that I shall be writing about ‘My Saturday’ on PHIDOC before long.)

This is a novel with extraordinary high ambition; and one which is remarkably achieved. For although McEwan allows us to entertain certain doubts about its central character, the neurosurgeon Perrowne, he does so in a way that keeps us on his side despite our reservations. I particularly warmed to his description about his sexual commitment to his wife and his deft acknowledgment about his son’s vocation to master the bass guitar. Both of course are interesting preludes to the central drama about how a vulnerable but highly gifted individual should respond
in extremis to the demands of a deeply disturbed and unpredictable outsider.

Is this a flawless novel? Almost certainly not! According to Michael Dirda in
The Washington Post the novel is "too artful at times". This is worthy of discussion. What isn’t worthy of debate, however, is the view of John Banville in the New York Times who described the tone of the novel as “arrogant, self-satisfied and incompetent; the characters cardboard cut-outs”. Nothing can be further from the truth. In Saturday, McEwan manages to combine pain-staking analysis with genuine compassion.


Book of the Month

Ian McEwan