Manny's Reviews > Saturday

Saturday by Ian McEwan
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Nov 29, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: too-sexy-for-maiden-aunts
Read in January, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Warning: also contains major spoilers for Night Train

Many of the other reviewers say they're annoyed with Saturday on the grounds that the main character's life is too implausibly perfect - a successful neurosurgeon with a beautiful wife, two talented children, a lovely home, etc etc. He's even a pretty decent squash player. So how can Henry possibly fill the Everyman role he's apparently meant to inhabit?

Well, it seems to me that McEwan is making a sensible point here. Compared to most people in human history, and indeed to most people in the world today, your average educated Westerner (e.g. your average person who posts on Goodreads) is unbelievably privileged. Of course, most of us aren't quite as privileged as Henry, but, when you compare against the great mass of humanity, the difference is so small that it's close to technical. So, the natural question that arises is: how are we making use of our incredible good fortune?

It occurred to me that Saturday is in some ways a mirror-image of Martin Amis's Night Train, another novel that people often slam. In the Amis book, we also have an extraordinarily fortunate character. Jennifier is young, beautiful, greatly loved and, on top of everything else, a cutting-edge research astrophysicist. (Amis is a big fan of astrophysics). And what does she do with all of this amazing luck? At the end, it turns out that she's killed herself for no reason at all! Given Amis's general preoccupation with our society's self-destructive trajectory, I think the intended message is clear. We are Jennifer: we could have a paradise if we were just the tiniest bit sensible, but instead we're destroying ourselves and the whole world for no reason.

In Saturday, I felt that the set-up was basically the same, but the final message was positive. Some parts of the story are indeed implausible (you are unlikely to deter a psychotic rapist by reciting Dover Beach). All the same, I liked the ending, where, almost without thinking, Henry uses his surgeon's skills to save the life of the man who, a few hours ago, was trying to kill him. This is right; this is how one should show appreciation for the gifts that fortune has showered on us.

I know, I know. Moral parables are unfashionable at the moment, and elegant despair is the cool choice. I still thought McEwan was saying something worthwhile here.
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Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

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message 1: by Alan (last edited Jan 27, 2011 02:54AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alan mmm, maybe. But you have to have convincing characters surely, even if they are part of some moral parable. Don't you? Besides the ridiculous family set up here, what maybe was worse were the villains, pantomime boo-hiss and thin-as-cardboard. Moved by Dover Beach? Unlikely. I don't know, maybe because I read a lot of fiction set amongst those that aren't as privileged (I don't think the difference technical) as this guy I feel he's smug and self justifying for a lot of the time. A bit Blair like in fact. I agree his actions at the end are admirable, and something could be said about the way we squander our privileges, just don't think this one stands up to scrutiny. Beautifully written though.
I've not read Night Train.


notgettingenough Some parts of the story are indeed implausible (you are unlikely to deter a psychotic rapist by reciting Dover Beach). Well, I don't know about that. It worked for me.

I LOVE this review.


message 3: by Alan (last edited Jan 27, 2011 02:54AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alan Not, do you mean you deterred a psychotic rapist by reciting 'Dover Beach', or that the book worked for you?

And yes, should have said, another eloquent Manny review.


Manny Thank you, Not!

Alan: well, I must admit that the bad guys weren't very thoroughly realised. My biggest problem with the Dover Beach sequence was that the same poem is used in Fahrenheit 451. Is it possible that McEwan didn't know this, or had forgotten? If the reference is intentional, then I'm not sure I get it.


message 5: by notgettingenough (last edited Jan 27, 2011 02:27AM) (new)

notgettingenough Alan wrote: "Not, do you mean you deterred a psychotic rapist by recting 'Dover Beach', or that the book worked for you?"

Ummm. What I meant was that at my local bar I always ask first now if they've read Dover Beach and if they have, I move on. Luckily the barman, Mickey feels sorry for me so when I buy the drinks - men being feminist now - he doesn't mind when I slip the date rape drug in as he thinks it isn't fair that I don't get any sex and I'm five foot and weigh a hundred pounds and how else AM I going to get sex? I believe it isn't technically rape, because they are sort of asleep and honestly, they are having a good time. You can tell with boys.


Manny I believe it isn't technically rape, because they are sort of asleep

First Julian Assange and now you. I'm afraid I see a pattern here.


message 7: by notgettingenough (last edited Jan 27, 2011 02:26AM) (new)

notgettingenough Manny wrote: "I believe it isn't technically rape, because they are sort of asleep

First Julian Assange and now you. I'm afraid I see a pattern here."


I'm so flattered. Absolutely. We both defend freedom of speech to the death...unless we are in the middle of sex.


Manny Alan wrote: "And yes, should have said, another eloquent Manny review."

Ah... you see, what I really wanted to do was create something that was well-written but basically trite and meaningless. I figured that would be thematic. Glad to hear I succeeded :)


message 9: by Alan (last edited Jan 27, 2011 02:53AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alan yes that's not the time to be defending freedom of speech. Again I'm a bit confused here - is it Mickey you're having sex with, but if he doesn't mind you slipping in the drug... or is he just the barman assisting you?

Yes manny, Dover Beach is in Fahrenheit 451 (I've not read the book, but have seen the strange Truffaut film where they all go around 'being' books. 'Hi, I'm Great Expectations'). I'm sure McEwan would have known this and did it deliberately.


message 10: by Alan (last edited Jan 27, 2011 02:53AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alan Manny wrote: "Alan wrote: "And yes, should have said, another eloquent Manny review."

Ah... you see, what I really wanted to do was create something that was well-written but basically trite and meaningless. I ..."


Oh Manny nothing you write is trite and meaningless. I don't think McEwan is trite here either, just wrong. If you like I think he's using his unbelievable privilege and power and skill to poor effect. Obviously a fair amount of people disagree with me, you, Abailart and a few others really rate this. That's fine of course. But a fair few agree too... all of us think he's a great writer.


message 11: by Alan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alan fuck I can't spell, sorry I'll go back and change all those priveleges! And the 'recting' Dover Beach...


Manny Alan wrote: "Dover Beach is in Fahrenheit 451... I'm sure McEwan would have known this and did it deliberately."

But if it's deliberate, what exactly is the point?

Oh Manny nothing you write is trite and meaningless.

You're way too kind :) But thank you anyway!


message 13: by Alan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alan dunno, something trite about the power of literature?


Manny Alan wrote: "dunno, something trite about the power of literature?"

I guess you may be correct. But if so, it's way below his usual level...


Manny as I recall his job, home, relationships, etc. are as sterile and well-lit as the room in which he operates.

It's true... the only time I really remember him getting agitated was when he was losing in the squash game. Possibly when his family's lives were being threatened too, but I'm not as sure about that.


message 16: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant tut, Manny, your review is spoiler-strewn but not flagged up as such.


Manny Oops! Fixed.


message 18: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant in mitigation there are spoilers all over every other review of this... I'm nearly finished with it myself & wrongly thought to check up with a few other views to see if I was on the same lines as y'all - and lo, Spoiler City! But no matter, Saturday isn't all about plot. And I'm not on anyone's Saturday wavelength, it seems...


message 19: by K.D. (new) - added it

K.D. Absolutely I am still to read this along with a number of his works. I was planning to read "In Between Sheets" but after reading your review, I think this should be next. Great one, Manny.


Amber Hi Manny - I started reading your review despite the spoiler flag because I'd already read Saturday and wanted to see what you thought of it. I didn't expect you to spoil the plot of another book :-) Just to be picky, perhaps you could put a note at the start of your review to say that it also contains spoilers for Night Train? I'll probably never get around to reading it, but I felt a bit disappointed that I'd read a spoiler for it without meaning to! Cheers :-)


message 21: by Manny (last edited Aug 21, 2011 11:43PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Thank you K.D.!

Amber, I will do that... sorry, it is often difficult to discuss books without mentioning other books...


message 22: by Jayaprakash (new)

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy 'you are unlikely to deter a psychotic rapist by reciting Dover Beach' needs to be on a t-shirt.


message 23: by K.D. (new) - added it

K.D. Absolutely I agree, Manny especially if you are comparing books.


Amber No worries - it just sounded like you were giving away a surprise ending!


message 25: by Ian (last edited Aug 23, 2011 02:30PM) (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye I like this review exactly as you've written it.
It raises important questions about happiness: why can't we be happy with what we have (whether we have a lot or a little), why are we unhappy that we don't have more or different?

Perhaps in a world where we think we deserve what we have (and what we want to have), we aren't grateful enough to be happy.
Not necessarily grateful to a God or a god or the gods or anyone else, just grateful.

I can't quite picture "elegant despair", though I can imagine elegance wasted, not to mention the elegantly wasted.


message 26: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca I'm still not going to be undeterred from reading Ian McEwan, your review (sans Dover Beach) notwithstanding.


Manny Oh, you should! The best ones (IMHO Atonement is the high point) are quite brilliant.


message 28: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant one of the many problems about McEwan is that everyone thinks you ought to read him. It's like a law was passed which I didn't notice. policemen stop you in the street and frisk you - stop and search is back - and if they don't find a copy of a McEwan novel on you then you get marched to the police station and you receive a caution. Second offence is a term of imprisonment of as long as it takes you to read every McEwan novel.


message 29: by Scribble (last edited Nov 16, 2012 03:54AM) (new)

Scribble Orca Manny wrote: "..how are we making use of our incredible good fortune?...we could have a paradise if we were just the tiniest bit sensible.."

Paul wrote: "..everyone thinks you ought to read him...second offence is...imprisonment of as long as it takes you to read every McEwan novel."


I prefer elegant despair and being insensible.


message 30: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant we all do but there is no time for that, you have to read every McEwan novel instead. Sorry, I don't make the rules.


message 31: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca {looks insufferably bored}

The only rule I accept is that of a specific governing body - my own.


message 32: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant I perceive thee to be a fearful anarchist. Ian McEwan is not your man.


message 33: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca Paul, I prefer fearless, if you don't mind.

And no, nor my woman, either. I flirted with his novel set in Venice and found him appallingly trite.


Aubrey Paul wrote: "one of the many problems about McEwan is that everyone thinks you ought to read him. It's like a law was passed which I didn't notice. policemen stop you in the street and frisk you - stop and sear..."

I'm glad I read him long before I was involved in any sort of literary circles. I feel no need to quibble over whether his books should be read.


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