Naomi's Reviews > Saturday

Saturday by Ian McEwan
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Dec 28, 2007

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Read in January, 2007

Saturday sets out to overcome the banal fact that the details of every individual's daily work, the minutiae of their job, are virtually impenetrable to anyone else - spouse, child, best-friend or co-worker. Still more difficult to convey is the interior monologue that goes with work, the thoughts and emotions that are never expressed. In an interesting bid to overcome this incommunicability McEwan lays out before us a day in Henry's life. There is certainly an imaginative spark in the impulse, but as soon as the project is initiated, invention is swamped by assiduous research and the didactic ability to master complex technical jargon and regurgitate it with tedious virtuosity. One does occasionally come across brilliantly perceptive lines. One such occurs after the climatic emergency situation that calls Henry back to the operating theatre around ten o'clock on his Saturday night. When the job is done and signed off, Henry 'feels calm and spacious, fully qualified to exist'. Unfortunately, the quiet, grateful acknowledgement of self-acceptance may well be lost to a reader already bored by the pedantic and alienating description of hospital procedures, or distanced by the wordy recollection of a visit to Nero's palace in Rome. The operating theatre, the squash court, the ancient palace rely not on the quirks of invention, but on ironed-out description with nary a wrinkle or hidden fold. Henry manages his memories as efficently as one would expect of any successful medico whose life's work is to smooth and soothe.

McEwan gets into the head of Henry Perowne, but only by laying Henry out on the operating table with his skull surgically opened like one of his own patients. Tied down to this wooden platform, McEwan produces a tour of limited force, which is thankfully saved by his consummate ability to both write and to intellectualise.
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