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Saturday

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Overview

In his triumphant new novel, Ian McEwan, the bestselling author of Atonement, follows an ordinary man through a Saturday whose high promise gradually turns nightmarish. Henry Perowne?a neurosurgeon, urbane, privileged, deeply in love with his wife and grown-up children?plans to play a game of squash, visit his elderly mother, and cook dinner for his family. But after a minor traffic accident leads to an unsettling confrontation, Perowne must set aside his plans and summon a strength greater than he knew he had in...

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Saturday

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Overview

In his triumphant new novel, Ian McEwan, the bestselling author of Atonement, follows an ordinary man through a Saturday whose high promise gradually turns nightmarish. Henry Perowne–a neurosurgeon, urbane, privileged, deeply in love with his wife and grown-up children–plans to play a game of squash, visit his elderly mother, and cook dinner for his family. But after a minor traffic accident leads to an unsettling confrontation, Perowne must set aside his plans and summon a strength greater than he knew he had in order to preserve the life that is dear to him.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Novelist Ian McEwan's dazzling piece of post-9/11 fiction follows a London neurosurgeon through a day that begins with an ominous portent, settles into routine, and then explodes in a single act of unexpected violence. Capturing the anxiety of a world on orange alert, McEwan exhibits typical subtlety as he steers the story toward its shattering denouement. Saturday is a study in narrative tension that shames most so-called thrillers.
From the Publisher
“Dazzling. . . . Powerful. . . . McEwan has shown how we . . . live today.” –The New York Times“Finely wrought and shimmering with intelligence.” –The New York Times Book Review“McEwan is supremely gifted. . . . Saturday is a tightly wound tour de force.” –The Washington Post Book World“This extraordinary book is not a political novel. It is a novel about consciousness that illuminates the sources of politics.” –The NationSaturday is an exemplary novel, engrossing and sustained. It is undoubtedly McEwan’s best.” –The Spectator“Read the last 100 pages at one sitting–the pace and the thrill allow it. . . . Exhilarating.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review“Virtuosic. . . . Brilliantly macabre and suspenseful. . . . [A] fine novel.” –The Wall Street Journal“McEwan is in the first tier of novelists writing in English today. . . . He has achieved a complete mastery of his craft.” –The New York Observer“This is McEwan at the height of his powers. . . . More audacious than Atonement.” –The Baltimore Sun“In Saturday, the marvelously gifted Ian McEwan turns a single day into nearly twenty-four hours emblematic of an entire era.” –Chicago Tribune“One of the most powerful pieces of post—9/11 fiction yet published.” –The New York Times“Complex, suspenseful. . . . This novel . . . reinforces Ian McEwan’s status as the supreme novelist of his generation.” –The Sunday Times (London)“Engrossing. . . . A thoughtful, measured and mature look at our world today. . . . [McEwan’s] skill at weaving together suspense, psychological depth and beautiful prose makes him among Britain’s best.” –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution“A major event. . . . Saturday proceeds serenely into very different territory where the most secure existence is ringed by sinister possibilities.” –Time“Thoroughly fascinating. . . . For sheer intelligence and skill, it’s hard to beat Ian McEwan’s Saturday.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer“Impeccable. . . . Beautifully crafted. . . . Fluid, richly textured. . . . Engrossing.” –Entertainment Weekly“Read this book. . . . On the level of the sentence, McEwan is smart, witty and insightful. . . . His writing astounds. . . . Saturday is almost too good to bear.” –The Times-Picayune“Utterly enthralling. . . . Stunningly orderly and harmonious.” –The Seattle Times“Magnificently imagined.” –San Francisco Chronicle“A brilliant work. . . . Astoundingly enjoyable.” –O, The Oprah Magazine“McEwan’s special achievement . . . is not only to give his narrative . . . near-hallucinatory clarity and verisimilitude, but also to make you realize that the world of his novel is our world. It’s a book of poignant insight into the temper of the times. . . . And it’s something rare and precious: a wise book.” –San Jose Mercury News“Hypnotic. . . . Exquisitely detailed, rich and suspenseful, literate and surprisingly explosive.” –The Miami Herald“McEwan’s sentences are perfect, and his novels are always powerful and intelligent.” –People“Sober yet scintillating. . . . Lucidly shows us that civilization and culture and the life of the mind, fragile as they seemingly are, nonetheless have a resilience that can outlast barbarism.” –Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic Monthly“A magnificent new novel that captures both the comforts and the anxieties of the world we live in right now.” –Vogue“The distinctive achievement of McEwan’s work has been to marry literary seriousness and ambition with a pace and momentum more commonly associated with genre fiction. He is the master clockmaker of novelists, piecing together cogs and wheels of his plots with unerring meticulousness.” –The New York Times Book Review“Marvelous. . . . A magical book. . . . McEwan shows again the quiet brilliance of his prose and his insights.” –Detroit Free Press“Captivating. . . . The prose is so precise and evocative the reader can ‘see’ the scenes unfolding. . . . [McEwan] is at the top of his game.” –The Denver Post
Michiko Kakutani
Though Saturday is too indebted to Mrs. Dalloway to resonate with the fierce originality of the author's last book, Atonement, it's clear that with this volume, Mr. McEwan has not only produced one of the most powerful pieces of post-9/11 fiction yet published, but also fulfilled that very primal mission of the novel: to show how we - a privileged few of us, anyway - live today.
— The New York Times
Michael Dirda
… there's little question that McEwan is supremely gifted and knows all the tricks and sleights of fiction. His latest novel, Saturday, might be a textbook example of how to generate a growing sense of disquiet with the tiniest finger-flicks of detail -- a broken mirror, a flash of red, two figures on a park bench. Slowly, readers may start to guess what will happen, but not how or when or to whom. McEwan makes us wait, lulls us into thinking we might be mistaken, and then -- just as we're feeling relaxed, bathed in well-being as after a big glass of wine -- he springs.
— The Washington Post
Library Journal
His mood somewhat dampened by the impending war in Iraq, a London neurosurgeon heads out to play squash-and ends up offending a local thug. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An increasingly mellowed but no less gripping McEwan (Atonement, 2002, etc.) portrays a single day in the life of a well-off upper-middle-class Londoner, blessed in every conceivable way. While crowds mass to protest the coming invasion of Iraq, Henry Perowne, a 48-year-old neurosurgeon at the top of his game, intelligent and self-aware, goes about a Saturday that's by turns mundane and marvelous. We follow his reflections on surgeries, so well detailed as to be med-porn; lazy lovemaking upon awakening, and restorative sex at the end of the day with smart, devoted, lawyer wife Rosalind (he notes his unusual luck in still wanting no one else); a sometimes savage squash game with friend and partner Jay; a sad visit to his senile mother; and shopping for dinner. A chance encounter with Baxter, an intelligent young thug, provides the small plot; Henry escapes a mugging when he recognizes early signs of Huntington's in the lad and takes control. That evening, at Henry's well-appointed townhouse, in the warm glow of gathered family-father-in-law John Grammaticus, towering poet turned to drink; son Theo, a gifted young blues guitarist; daughter Daisy, a poet visiting from Paris, newly published and newly pregnant-Baxter returns and holds Rosalind at knifepoint. Terrorized and terrified, the family, through their various strengths, overcome Baxter, who lands in the hospital requiring emergency surgery from the forgiving Henry. Comprised by an active awareness of his place in the world, of his love for family and work, and of the contingencies that make his life his own, and that make Baxter's life his own, Henry's thoughts-especially since they're informed also by a matter-of-fact understandingof the neurological processes that emerge as behavior and look like choice-envelop us in a total immersion experience. A sort of middle-class humanist manifesto: when you find yourself fortunate beyond all measure in a random universe, gratitude, generosity, and compassion are a decent response.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400076192
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/11/2006
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 118,202
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of more than ten books, including the novels Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award, The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize, and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award, as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He has also written screenplays, plays, television scripts, a children’s book, and the libretto for an oratorio. He lives in London.

Biography

One of the most distinguished novelists of his generation, Ian McEwan was born in England and spent much of his childhood traveling with his father, an army officer stationed in the Far East, Germany, and North Africa. He graduated from Sussex University in 1970 with a degree in English Literature and received his MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

McEwan burst upon the literary scene in the mid-1970s with two short story collections that highlighted with equal clarity his early predilection for disturbing, somewhat shocking subject matter and his dazzling prose style. Similarly, his 1978 debut novel, The Cement Garden, attracted as much attention for its unsettling storyline as for its stylistic brilliance. But even though his early work was saturated with deviant sex, violence, and death (so much so that he earned the nickname "Ian MacAbre"), he was never dismissed as a mere purveyor of cheap thrills. In fact, two of his most provocative works (The Comfort of Strangers and Enduring Love) were shortlisted for major U.K. awards.

As he has matured, McEwan has moved away from disquieting themes like incest, sadism, and psychotic obsession to explore more introspective human dramas. In an interview with The New Republic he described his literary evolution in this way:

"One passes the usual milestones in life: You have children, you find that whether you like it or not, you have a huge investment in the human project somehow succeeding. You become maybe a little more tolerant as you get older. Pessimism begins to feel something like a badge that you perhaps do not wear so easily. There is something delicious and reckless about the pessimism of being 21. And when you get older you feel maybe a little more delicate and hope that things will flourish. You don't want to take a stick to it."
Among many literary honors, McEwan has been awarded the Somerset Maugham Award for First Love, Last Rites (1976) and the Whitbread Prize for The Child in Time (1987). Nominated three times for the Booker Prize, he finally won in 1998 for Amsterdam. He has also received the WH Smith Literary Award and National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award for Atonement (2001) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Saturday (2005).

Good To Know

While developing the Harry Perowne, the neurosurgeon in Saturday, McEwan actually spent a year observing a neurosurgeon at work, which included time spent in the operating theater.

Although he is known principally for his novels, McEwan has also brought his vision to the screen as writer of the films The Ploughman's Lunch (1983) and Soursweet (1988).

Hollywood loves McEwan. Film adaptions of his novels include The Cement Garden, The Comfort of Strangers, The Innocent, Enduring Love, and Atonement.

McEwan is no stranger to controversy. In 1999, his first wife kidnapped their 13-year-old son.The child was returned and McEwan awarded sole custody. His ex-wife was fined for "defamation" of McEwan's name.

In 2002, Ian McEwan discovered that he had a brother born from an affair between McEwan's parents that occurred before their marriage and given up for adoption during WWII. Since their relationship has come to light, McEwan and his brother have met frequently and forged a friendship.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Ian Russell McEwan
    2. Hometown:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 21, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Aldershot, England
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Sussex, 1970; M.A., University of East Anglia, 1971
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

One

Some hours before dawn Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon, wakes to find himself already in motion, pushing back the covers from a sitting position, and then rising to his feet. It’s not clear to him when exactly he became conscious, nor does it seem relevant. He’s never done such a thing before, but he isn’t alarmed or even faintly surprised, for the movement is easy, and pleasurable in his limbs, and his back and legs feel unusually strong. He stands there, naked by the bed – he always sleeps naked – feeling his full height, aware of his wife’s patient breathing and of the wintry bedroom air on his skin. That too is a pleasurable sensation. His bedside clock shows three forty. He has no idea what he’s doing out of bed: he has no need to relieve himself, nor is he disturbed by a dream or some element of the day before, or even by the state of the world. It’s as if, standing there in the darkness, he’s materialised out of nothing, fully formed, unencumbered. He doesn’t feel tired, despite the hour or his recent labours, nor is his conscience troubled by any recent case. In fact, he’s alert and empty-headed and inexplicably elated. With no decision made, no motivation at all, he begins to move towards the nearest of the three bedroom windows and experiences such ease and lightness in his tread that he suspects at once he’s dreaming or sleepwalking. If it is the case, he’ll be disappointed. Dreams don’t interest him; that this should be real is a richer possibility. And he’s entirely himself, he is certain of it, and he knows that sleep is behind him: to know the difference between it and waking, to know the boundaries, is the essence of sanity.

The bedroom is large and uncluttered. As he glides across it with almost comic facility, the prospect of the experience ending saddens him briefly, then the thought is gone. He is by the centre window, pulling back the tall folding wooden shutters with care so as not to wake Rosalind. In this he’s selfish as well as solicitous. He doesn’t wish to be asked what he’s about – what answer could he give, and why relinquish this moment in the attempt? He opens the second shutter, letting it concertina into the casement, and quietly raises the sash window. It is many feet taller than him, but it slides easily upwards, hoisted by its concealed lead counterweight. His skin tightens as the February air pours in around him, but he isn’t troubled by the cold. From the second floor he faces the night, the city in its icy white light, the skeletal trees in the square, and thirty feet below, the black arrowhead railings like a row of spears. There’s a degree or two of frost and the air is clear. The streetlamp glare hasn’t quite obliterated all the stars; above the Regency façade on the other side of the square hang remnants of constellations in the southern sky. That particular façade is a reconstruction, a pastiche – wartime Fitzrovia took some hits from the Luftwaffe – and right behind is the Post Office Tower, municipal and seedy by day, but at night, half-concealed and decently illuminated, a valiant memorial to more optimistic days.

And now, what days are these? Baffled and fearful, he mostly thinks when he takes time from his weekly round to consider. But he doesn’t feel that now. He leans forwards, pressing his weight onto his palms against the sill, exulting in the emptiness and clarity of the scene. His vision – always good – seems to have sharpened. He sees the paving stone mica glistening in the pedestrianised square, pigeon excrement hardened by distance and cold into something almost beautiful, like a scattering of snow. He likes the symmetry of black cast-iron posts and their even darker shadows, and the lattice of cobbled gutters. The overfull litter baskets suggest abundance rather than squalor; the vacant benches set around the circular gardens look benignly expectant of their daily traffic – cheerful lunchtime office crowds, the solemn, studious boys from the Indian hostel, lovers in quiet raptures or crisis, the crepuscular drug dealers, the ruined old lady with her wild, haunting calls. Go away! she’ll shout for hours at a time, and squawk harshly, sounding like some marsh bird or zoo creature.

Standing here, as immune to the cold as a marble statue, gazing towards Charlotte Street, towards a foreshortened jumble of façades, scaffolding and pitched roofs, Henry thinks the city is a success, a brilliant invention, a biological masterpiece – millions teeming around the accumulated and layered achievements of the centuries, as though around a coral reef, sleeping, working, entertaining themselves, harmonious for the most part, nearly everyone wanting it to work. And the Perownes’ own corner, a triumph of congruent proportion; the perfect square laid out by Robert Adam enclosing a perfect circle of garden – an eighteenth-century dream bathed and embraced by modernity, by street light from above, and from below by fibre-optic cables, and cool fresh water coursing down pipes, and sewage borne away in an instant of forgetting.

An habitual observer of his own moods, he wonders about this sustained, distorting euphoria. Perhaps down at the molecular level there’s been a chemical accident while he slept – something like a spilled tray of drinks, prompting dopamine-like receptors to initiate a kindly cascade of intracellular events; or it’s the prospect of a Saturday, or the paradoxical consequence of extreme tiredness. It’s true, he finished the week in a state of unusual depletion. He came home to an empty house, and lay in the bath with a book, content to be talking to no one. It was his literate, too literate daughter Daisy who sent the biography of Darwin which in turn has something to do with a Conrad novel she wants him to read and which he has yet to start – seafaring, however morally fraught, doesn’t much interest him. For some years now she’s been addressing what she believes is his astounding ignorance, guiding his literary education, scolding him for poor taste and insensitivity. She has a point – straight from school to medical school to the slavish hours of a junior doctor, then the total absorption of neurosurgery training spliced with committed fatherhood – for fifteen years he barely touched a non-medical book at all. On the other hand, he thinks he’s seen enough death, fear, courage and suffering to supply half a dozen literatures. Still, he submits to her reading lists – they’re his means of remaining in touch as she grows away from her family into unknowable womanhood in a suburb of Paris; tonight she’ll be home for the first time in six months – another cause for euphoria.

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Foreword

1. Saturday’s epigraph comes from Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow, whose novel Herzog features an academic facing the shortcomings of his life. The novel was published in 1964; how might the history of the early Sixties have influenced Bellow’s perspective? Forty years later, how does Ian McEwan’s protagonist embody current events?

2. At the end of Saturday’s first paragraph, as Henry wakes too early, McEwan writes, “And he’s entirely himself, he is certain of it, and he knows that sleep is behind him: to know the difference between it and waking, to know the boundaries, is the essence of sanity.” To what else does Henry awaken as the novel progresses? In the book and in the world, who remains asleep (and unaware of their slumber)?

3. When Henry hears about the cargo plane’s safe landing, McEwan observes, “Schrödinger’s cat was alive after all.” How does Schrödinger’s thought-experiment, allowing two outcomes to co-exist during a period of uncertainty, apply to Henry’s daily life? How does it express the nature of human thought during times of anxiety?

4. Was the collision between Henry’s car and Baxter’s an accident? What visual cues (the type of car Henry associates with criminals, the “scarecrow” clothes that make him look like something other than a doctor) stoke the fire? What class conflicts are projected as the men argue? What determines who has more power in that situation?

5. Discuss the irony of the novel’s title. Henry intended to spend the day relaxing; does the modern world allow for any true respitefrom worry?

6. In your opinion, what accounts for the bliss between Henry and his wife? When he met her, did her vulnerability (through illness) feed their attraction, or was it merely a means for them to find one another? What accounts for Henry’s uneasy relationship with his father-in-law?

7. In researching Saturday, Ian McEwan spent months observing brain surgery. What parallels exist between a writer’s craft and a surgeon’s? What is the effect of McEwan’s decision to cast Henry in the specialty of neurosurgery (as opposed to thoracic or orthopedic surgery, for example)? How does Henry’s ease with medical terminology, but discomfort with the vocabulary of literature, influence your reading experience?

8. Jay Strauss moved to the U.K. in part because of his enthusiasm for socialized medicine. How would you describe the healthcare system presented in the novel?

9. Do you think Jay personifies most or few Americans? Is he more competitive than Henry?

10. As Henry watches his mother’s dementia worsen, he labels the physiological reasons for her decline. Does his familiarity with science ease or aggravate the sadness of losing her?

11. One of Henry’s last errands in the novel is to listen to attend a performance by Theo’s band. What does blues music, along with its American flavor, mean to Theo? Does Henry experience this art differently from the way he hears Daisy’s work?

12. Why was Baxter’s invasion of Henry’s house essential to this novel? In what way can this scene be explored as a metaphor for politics, war, even global economics? Why was it also necessary for Henry’s security system to be proven ineffective that night?

13. Using an anthology or website, read Matthew Arnold’s nineteenth-century masterwork "Dover Beach" in its entirety. What caused it to resonate with Baxter’s memories? Can you think of any contemporary poems in free verse that would have served Daisy’s purpose so well?

14. What saves Henry’s family from Baxter and his cohorts: Poetry? Pregnancy? Bravery? Intelligence? Luck? Divine intervention? Baxter’s illness? How would you have reacted in a similar situation?

15. As Henry returns to the hospital that night, he realizes this is where he feels most comfortable – even more so than when he’s in the world of alleged leisure. Earlier in the novel, McEwan describes how orderly Henry’s mother was; Henry wishes he had just once invited her to the operating theater. Is this sense of order and belonging innate to Henry’s profession, or is it something Henry has ascribed to it? In what locale do you personally feel you’re at the top of your game? Is this the same locale that puts you at ease?

16. Why is Henry willing to perform surgery on Baxter? What keeps Henry from craving the revenge Rosalind anticipated? Would you be able to drop the charges, as Henry hopes to do? How do you respond to McEwan’s questions: "Is this forgiveness? . . . Or is [Henry] the one seeking forgiveness?"

17. Can Henry’s surgery on Baxter be called revenge? Is his probing of Baxter’s brain a violation? Or, is Henry’s magnanimous act a victory of enlightened liberalism over Baxter’s primal power politics?

18. During Henry’s reunion with Daisy, they waver between words of affection and a rapid-fire ideological debate about Iraq. How would such a debate have unfolded in your household?

19. Four generations are presented in Saturday, including Daisy’s child. What does each generation bestow, or hope to bestow, upon the next? What spurred such an exceptional level of accomplishment among the members of the Perowne family?

20. Discuss the element of storytelling itself in Saturday. Do the stories disseminated within this novel – by the broadcasters, the protesters, the lawless, the keepers of family legacy – all describe the same reality? Who or what has the power to influence what we believe? What literary devices did Ian McEwan use to evoke realism in this novel?

21. Examining the works of Ian McEwan as a continuum, how does Saturday enrich the portrait of life he has been crafting throughout his career?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Henry Perowne has a loving, intelligent wife, two gifted, handsome children, a large, elegant house in central London, and a job that deeply satisfies him. He appears to be, in all ways, a successful and enviable individual. He is also thoughtful, ethical, and intelligent. Do these facts make him an agreeable protagonist? What are his flaws or his failings?

2. Why is the parable of Schrödinger’s cat [p. 18] so fitting an end to the first section of the novel? Why does Henry reject it as a thought experiment? How does the image of the cat in the box address the idea of disasters that occur outside the range of our own consciousness?

3. McEwan takes his epigraph from Saul Bellow’s novel Herzog, which was published in 1964. The list describes the conditions surrounding “what it means to be a man” in Herzog’s America. How closely do these conditions still apply in the lives of Perowne and Baxter? Does McEwan, like Bellow, wish to remind his readers that “you yourself are a child of this mass and a brother to all the rest. Or else an ingrate, dilettante, idiot”? Does Saturday depend upon the moral engagement of the reader?

4. On the story’s opening page we are introduced to the main character as “Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon” [p. 1]. How does Henry’s professional training shape the way he thinks about the world around him, and about himself? In his work, Henry experiences a kind of self-erasure: “Even his awareness of his own existence has vanished. He’s been delivered into a pure present. . . . In retrospect, though never at the time, it feels like profound happiness” [p. 266]. How does his love of work shape his life?

5. Saturday is unique in that it limits its time frame to a single day in recent history—February 15, 2003—a day that most readers will remember because of the massive anti-war demonstrations that took place. What is the effect of this straitened approach to time, and its attendant view of history-in-the-making? How, in light of world events since then, does it feel to look back to that day, before the war in Iraq began?

6. Clearly Baxter is a violent and deeply unstable man; is he also likeable in certain ways? How does Perowne’s view of Baxter from a neurological perspective change the reader’s relationship to him?

7. Just after September 11, 2001, Ian McEwan wrote an essay for the Guardian newspaper about the effect of watching those terrible, world-changing events on television. He wrote, “We remember what we have seen, and we daydream helplessly. Lately, most of us have inhabited the space between the terrible actuality and these daydreams. Waking before dawn, going about our business during the day, we fantasize ourselves into the events. What if it was me?”* In Saturday, Henry awakens before dawn to the sight of a flaming aircraft and is unsettled by the threat this vision presents to his city, his family, and his way of life. In what ways does Saturday communicate this sense of living with an ongoing threat of a large-scale disaster? How do the characters in the novel cope with this somewhat abstracted sense of danger?
*Read the Guardian essay: www.guardian.co.uk/wtccrash/story/0,1300,552408,00.html

8. During his visit to his mother, Henry acknowledges a belated appreciation of her way of thinking, which as a younger man he had thought trivial and unintelligent: “He had no business as a young man being condescending towards her. . . . Unlike in Daisy’s novels, moments of precise reckoning are rare in real life” [p. 159]. How does Henry communicate with his mother, and what does his attitude toward her tell us about him? In what ways does Saturday embrace the conventions of fiction, such as “moments of precise reckoning,” and how does it deny them? Does it work in the chaotic, inconclusive style of real life, or does it in fact give us moments of resolution and reckoning, forgiveness and satisfying closure?

9. In the first few pages of McEwan’s The Child in Time, a child is kidnapped during a visit to the supermarket and never seen again. In Enduring Love, the protagonist’s life changes irrevocably when he sees a man fall to his death from a hot-air balloon. At the outset of Saturday, the opening disaster appears to be coming from airborne terrorists attacking the city; the real danger comes from a revenge-seeking man who has been damaged by his own unlucky genetic fate. What effect, if any, does this unexpected shift from a public terror to a private one have on the story?

10. British critics have expressed a sense of disbelief that Henry would not recognize the lines of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,”* one of the most famous poems in English literature. Yet Henry has pointed out repeatedly that he is impatient when reading literature. Is it ironic that Henry—a character, after all, in a literary work—is so resistant to the appeal of fiction and poetry?
*Read the poem online at: http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/89.html

11. Why might McEwan have chosen “Dover Beach” as the poem that saves Daisy by appealing so powerfully to Baxter [pp. 228–30]? What does it mean to him? What emotions does the poem’s speaker express?

12. McEwan’s choice to locate the narrative perspective within a single point of view (Henry’s) focuses the reader on the subject of human consciousness. Stuck in traffic just before his collision with Baxter, Henry thinks, “A second can be a long time in introspection” [p. 80]. How does the description of Henry’s introspection, which makes up a large part of the novel, affect its pace? If you have read other novels (like those of Virginia Woolf, Henry James, or James Joyce) that delve as closely as Saturday into the representation of human consciousness, how does McEwan’s approach differ?

13. Perowne takes a wry view of both the American President and the British Prime Minister. What is wrong, in Henry’s opinion, with both of these men? What motivates them? What does Henry and Rosalind’s brief meeting with Tony Blair expose about men in power?

14. Operating on Baxter, Perowne thinks, “Just like the digital codes of replicating life held within DNA, the brain’s fundamental secret will be laid open one day. But even when it has, the wonder will remain, that mere wet stuff can make this bright inward cinema of thought, of sight and sound and touch bound into a vivid illusion of an instantaneous present, with a self, another brightly wrought illusion, hovering like a ghost at its centre. Could it ever be explained, how matter becomes conscious? . . . He knows it will come, the secret will be revealed–over decades, as long as the scientists and the institutions remain in place, the explanations will refine themselves into an irrefutable truth about consciousness” [pp. 262—63]. Do you agree with Henry’s faith in science? In terms of the problems presented in Saturday, what can science solve, and what can it not?

15. In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, a wealthy society woman learns at a party she is hosting that a shell-shocked veteran of World War I has killed himself by jumping from a window. She feels guilty and ashamed that she hasn’t shared his suffering and fears that her privileged life has cut her off from real empathy. Does Henry’s decision to operate on Baxter reflect a similar sense of guilt or responsibility? Why does Henry not share Rosalind’s desire for revenge?

16. McEwan is interested in the contrast between the human capacity for empathy, which is strengthened by the act of reading fiction, and our capacity for violence against each other: “We are capable of acts of extraordinary destruction. I think it’s inherent. I think one of the great tasks of art is really to explore that. . . . I personally think the novel, above all forms in literature, is able to investigate human nature and try and understand those two sides, all those many, many sides of human nature.”* How does Saturday engage in this juxtaposition of violence with empathy? Which of the characters in the novel are most attuned to the experience of others? If you have read Atonement, are the two novels similar or different in their handling of the question of imaginative empathy?
*Read the complete Frontline interview:
www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/faith/interviews/mcewan.html

17. Saturday features several bravura passages of descriptive writing, such as the confrontation between Henry and Baxter [pp. 81–100], the squash game [pp. 104–118], and the surgical operation on Baxter’s brain [pp. 253–66]. What is the effect of these passages, and what do they tell us about McEwan’s style? What sets McEwan apart from other contemporary writers of literary fiction?

18. Henry doesn’t join the peace march because to do so would express a more uncomplicated view of events than he actually holds. He looks, with hindsight, at the ideologies of the previous century: “Now we think we do see, how do things stand? After the ruinous experiments of the lately deceased century, after so much vile behaviour, so many deaths, a queasy agnosticism has settled around these matters of justice and redistributed wealth. No more big ideas. The world must improve, if at all, by tiny steps. People mostly take an existential view–having to sweep the streets for a living looks like simple bad luck. It’s not a visionary age. The streets need to be clean. Let the unlucky enlist” [p. 74]. How would you characterize his moral point of view?

19. For Henry, both the fiery plane and the peace march invoke thoughts of terrorism: “London, his small part of it, lies wide open, impossible to defend, waiting for its bomb, like a hundred other cities. Rush hour will be a convenient time. . . . The authorities agree an attack’s inevitable” [p. 286]. One reviewer observed that in the four years that have passed since 9/11, “Security . . . has become the great obsession. . . . The prevailing public mood has come to resemble closely that of an Ian McEwan novel. Constant menace, punctuated with nightmarish atrocities; the insult of the world’s continuing normality: these are things we all understand very well” [Theo Tait, The Times Literary Supplement (London), February 9, 2005]. What is it like to read this novel in the wake not only of 9/11 but also of the July 2005 attacks on London? In what ways does it reflect the changes in your own life and consciousness?

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 96 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2008

    McEwan Shines to No Surprise

    After reading Atonement, I felt that McEwan had done it--written a novel that could not be topped. I was wrong. Saturday, in its own way, is just as good if not better than Atonement merely in its ability to create tension out of thin air.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2006

    Disapointing

    I had to read this for a literature class, and having read a synopsis of the book, I was very excited. This excitment, however, turned to disapointment as the book dragged on forever. Not only does the author make the characters over anyalize things, but he also assumes that his audidence will understand extreemly difficult medical terms that he himself only learned while shadowing a neurological surgeon. This novel is also very confusing because it jumps around constantly between scenes, characters, and time periods.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Pretentious

    The critics love this book and this author. I am an avid reader and I am not ignorant of the world around me. So, honestly, I thought the author wanted to show off a lot of esoteric knowledge, vocabulary, etc. I have read Atonement by this author. It also was somewhat pretentious. Why do the critics love this author so much?

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2010

    Too many words and too rambling

    The rambling thoughts the main character runs thru on every page becomes mind numbing and I couldn't wait to just page thru the book to be finished. The plot was lost in all the word filled pages, so that I kept losing what was supposed to be happening at any particular time. It was just too "word-y". I was very disappointed in this book.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2008

    Still puzzled about this one.

    This book baffled me. It was boring, and I knew it was boring, but at the same time I continued to read without being overwhelmed by the boredom. Most of the narrator's thoughts were fairly mundane and pointless- albeit eloquent- but something about them, perhaps the novelty of following a person's thoughts that closely, kept me reading. The characters were certainly well-developed, which helped immensely. One aspect of the novel I found jarring was the constant insertion of analysis on the Iraq war. It seemed very out of place, and kept yanking me out of the story. I understand the importance of the topic, but the narrator seemed to think about it to the point of obsession, and it made me feel as if his thoughts on the subject were more authorial interjection than a part of the story. In the end, I'm not sure if I'd say that I enjoyed this one, but it definitely intrigued me enough to keep me until the end.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2007

    I'm well read and hate this novel

    I'm going to dismiss outright any charges that a bad review of this novel = someone who needs to get their kicks reading either chick lit or book versions of currently playing movie hits. This is easily one of the most boring, pretentious, slow moving, overly staring at your belly button novels I have ever attempted. I'm astounded at the good reviews. I never give up on books I've started but cannot tell you how tempted I am to do so. If it weren't for a good night out with the Book Club discussing this one there is no way I would waste a single moment more reading it.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 15, 2011

    highly recommended

    I love this man's writing- he manages to control the time dimension- he takes the random, wandering mind that changes over milliseconds and gives each thought voice, and then turns around and develops each character in intimate detail, and accomplishes both within a plot that happens over a 24 hr time span and peaks with equal power to any action, suspense novel ever written. I plan to read everything he has published.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    Worth the Read!

    I wanted to keep reading. Beautifully written.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Info dump with impossible pacing

    As stated by some reviewers, I started this book, but was unable to finish it. The first time I stopped was when Henry was attacked by Baxter and got away because he diagnosed the big man's health problem. Not believable. I picked it up again and started from that point, read through the squash match, and up to Harry's going to the fish market. Could not force myself to go on. Although I knew what I didn't like about the book, I felt like it was a failing within me. The critics liked it. My book club liked it. Were the problems I saw a lack of sophistication in me as a reader?

    Then, I read some of the reviewers online. Imagine how happy I was to see that others agreed with me. First, the pacing is intolerable. For every action, instead of a reaction, the author gives us paragraphs of introspection. Most of it is back story, things the author needs to know about his character in order to depict him as real, but the reader does not need all of these details. Yet even with all of these details, Henry seems to be no more than two-dimensional. There seems to be no passion in the man, as if he's all thought, but no emotion. Even his attitude toward his family is distant and analytical.

    Second, a good deal of the novel is an info dump. McEwan seems to have included everything he learned about brain surgery, medicine in general, and the medical system in Britain. Then there's fish soup, music, poetry, politics, al Qaeda, etc.

    I am sorry that these things spoiled my enjoyment of this my first novel by McEwan. I'd hoped to enjoy it, especially since so many others seemed to have done so and McEwan's use of language is almost enough to drag one along. However, I was bored, by the characters, the interminable thought processes, the plot, and too much information that did not move the story forward. Perhaps this particular novel would have worked better as novella or short story.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2008

    A Day in the Life...

    A good read as the author examines aspects of a man going through events of a Saturday. McEwan manages to acquaint the reader with a professional, his wife, children, his career, his examining both his and his mother's aging and mortality, and the macrocosm of the world and war. War is not the solution unless you and yours are tortured. Henry Perowne's personal torturing events call for desperate actions.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2006

    DULL...and no, I don't just relish pop fiction

    Couldn't get through it, although I tried. Hate doing anything halfway, but this book was a waste of 4 hours (over 3 weeks) that I will never get back. Long, drawn out grandiose text under the guise of intellectual fiction.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2006

    too drawn out

    I was excited to read this book but it turned out to be somewhat disappointing. It is very drawn out. The main character just thinks too much about things that are not all that exciting. There is also a lot of medical descriptions that I didn't understand as I am not a doctor. Overall not nearly as good as I thought it would be.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2006

    Surprisingly Boring

    This book sounded interesting to me, but I was disappointed when I actually read it. I suppose I expected things to be drawn out a little bit -- I mean, they would have to be to fill 289 pages with one day. But this book was too descriptive. I found my mind drifting off and when I got back to the book I realized that I had read several pages without even paying attention to what I was reading. And I don't think I missed much.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2014

    Didn't finish

    It is seldom that I do not finish a book. This book won awards, rave reviews, etc. however, I found it hard to read and follow. As a result, after the first 100 pages I decided it wasn't worth my time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    Like Atonement, this novel is a well-crafted "literary"

    Like Atonement, this novel is a well-crafted "literary" novel. By this I mean that those below who find McEwan to be "rambling" aren't really giving McEwan's the deep thought that it deserves. The novel touches on important themes such as the role of literature (reading, writing, story-telling) in society, modernism (how the 24/7 hour news cycle shapes our daily lives). Basically, everyone should read this novel if they want to read a thoughtful, insightful writer's observations of modern life (and the problems that come with it). Thank you McEwan - I loved the book! Also, amaaazing characters and an amazing family. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2014

    When I first picked up this book I was really excited about read

    When I first picked up this book I was really excited about reading it; however, now that I’ve finished the novel it turns out that I did not enjoy it. This book not only confused me, but it really didn’t grab my attention. The narrator of the book was often very dry and very boring and that caused the book to constantly drag. I will say that the characters of the book were well-developed, we personality which help out while I read the book. The confusion started when medical terms came about. The author used very big medical terms and descriptions that most readers did not understand. Along with that, the story often jumped back and forth between the characters and scenes. Overall, Saturday was not as good as a book as I thought it would be. 

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Mostly boring unless you are a doctor

    The Neurosurgeon gives us way to much information about what he is thinking, wearing , eating, driving, etc. Nothing really happened in this story until the middle of the book and by then, I didn't care.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2013

    Oh whatever

    Meh.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

    Worth the time to read

    I started reading this book for one of my college courses and had the mindset, "o I'm not going to enjoy this book, I'll just make it through." But I ended up finding a character that makes living inside one's head interesting. I ended up really liking the book and would recommend it, but just say to come into reading it with an open mind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    Not much after Atonement... Another routine novel pretending to

    Not much after Atonement... Another routine novel pretending to address a current issue. Sad for such an important literary figure...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 96 Customer Reviews

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