Maciek's Reviews > Saturday

Saturday by Ian McEwan
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Oct 19, 10

bookshelves: owned-books, crap, own-in-paperback, read-in-2010, reviewed, booker-long-and-shortlist
Read from October 18 to 19, 2010

Short version: GOD IT WAS BORING.

Long version: You know the anecdote that a succesful novelist could publish his shopping list and people would buy it? That's the case with Saturday. A chronicle of 24 hours from the life of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, the novel is full of his ruminations, reminiscences, all described in painful, tedious detail. McEwan fails to build an actual plot; instead you'll be sure to hear every single event, no matter how irrelevant and drawn out (there's an 18 page description of a squash game that's boring to death!). If you liked Remembrance of Things Past this book might appeal to you; Henry takes 60 pages to get out of the sheets.

The characters are all disgustingly one-dimensional; starting with Henry Perowne, the most gifted brain surgeon of his generation who plays squash and owns an awesome ride, mercedes of course; his wife, Rosalynd, the beautiful lawyer who seems to posess no negative attributes whatsoever; the hipster son, a handsome, talented blues musician; beautiful daughter who's a published poet; Henry's father who bears the incredibly pretentious surname of "Grammaticus" (he's a poet too, of course) and Henry's mom, an acclaimed swimmer (she's the most likable character in the book - maybe because she's suffering from dementia).

McEwan is not in any way gentle or subtle in presenting his own beliefs, and as he is an atheist then so is his hero. Henry doesn't believe in any supreme force, doesn't like writers who employ the supernatural, is bored with literature in general - much like the reader is bored with his ramblings. McEwan blandly uses his characters as mouthpieces, and the road to individual insight is forced and devoid of any nuance - he'll spend 20 pages describing a squatch game, then go onto his rant about science or the war in Iraq, then go and describe some mundane activities again, return to rants about cultural differences and religion, break it, rinse and repeat. It's clumsy, irritating and becomes unbearable pretty quick.
Did I mention hundreds of pages about neurosurgery? Well, maybe not hundreds - it feels more like thousands.

Why was it critically acclaimed you might ask? It's pretty simple. Saturday is exactly what one would expect to read in the so called Literary Novel - take in the one day setting and scream of consciousness from Wolf and Joyce, mix in the character study of James, complete with the dulness of Melville and voila! Your cocktail is ready and you will learn many new, exquisite things: war protesters often lack knowledge about war and are simply protesting, thugs and bullies are bad, science is cool and friends can occasionally be disappointing.
Compare it to mixing various alcohols - wine, vodka, beer and tequila undoubtedly all work well on their own, but when you mix them all you know what will come out of it?
Puke. That's a good description of Saturday - it's verbal puke.

There is nothing controversial, thought provoking or challenging in this novel. It even has a Hollywood ending: the good doctor proves to be a quiet, admirable hero who eventually perserveres (with a help of a gigantic deus ex machina), but is as realistic as James Bond in his old days. Bond was fun though; Saturday is not.

Saturday is genuine literature because there's absolutely nothing fun in it, nothing clever or in any way fresh. It is instead full of tedium, banal social commentary and uninteresting characters that don't posess a particle of humanity. There are no plot developments whatsoever (I would even argue about the existence of a plot in the first place). But it has long panderings about Iraq, science and most important of all - squash, so it must be "profound", "urgent" and "dazzling". Ideal Pulitzer material.

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Reading Progress

10/19/2010 page 150

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Becky (new)

Becky Wow... going in for seconds? Wasn't Chesil enough?

Maciek Well, Chesil was so bad it became good. I picked this up and it was such a colossal bore that I barely finished it.
I still have "Atonement", maybe that one will finally make me understand what the world sees in McEwan.

message 3: by Becky (new)

Becky I own Atonement too... I'm afraid...

Maciek I'm currently reading it and it ain't so bad!

message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason Cooperrider It should have been obvious from the start that this would be boring if it is about the ruminations of a neurosurgeon. Everyone knows that it is the ruminations of we neuroscientists, not neurosurgeons, that are interesting and entertaining. ;-)

Maciek Oh, I've no doubt. ;)

Mike Sometimes you need to read a book not for the car chases and the breasts, but for the smoothness and quality of the words, surely?

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