Saturday

Saturday

by Ian McEwan

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Overview

Saturday by Ian McEwan

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9783257600285
Publisher: Diogenes
Publication date: 01/01/2012
Sold by: CIANDO
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
File size: 2 MB

About 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.

Hometown:

Oxford, England

Date of Birth:

June 21, 1948

Place of Birth:

Aldershot, England

Education:

B.A., University of Sussex, 1970; M.A., University of East Anglia, 1971

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.


Reading Group Guide

Introduction to the Reading Group Guide from the Publisher

Ian McEwan's fiction never fails to make us think a little differently-about humanity, and storytelling, and the beliefs that comprise our myth and memory. In Saturday, he has created a storyline that brings to bear the full weight these facets in the contemporary world.

With intense precision, McEwan draws us into the life of London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne. Taking place over a single day, Saturday follows Henry as he copes with everyday quandaries: insomnia, aging, the quest for a moment of leisure in the midst of so many obligations. But this particular day ripples with unexpected fears. Before the sun is up, he sees fire glowing from an airplane as it lumbers above the Thames. Newscasters deliver conflicting accounts of the incident. Later, as Henry drives to a game of squash, anti-war protestors clog the streets. And then his car scrapes against another, a fender-bender that should have had only minor consequences. Yet, as much as Henry tries to enjoy an ordinary day, this is not meant to be a day of minor consequences. With every tender encounter-stolen moments with his wife, tea with his fragile mother, marvelous discussions with his grown children-he is looking over his shoulder. As he should be. For this is the day his fears will become realized, and he will have to choose the best means of defense.

This guide is designed to enhance your reading of Saturday. We hope the following questions and topics will enrich your experience of this provocative novel. For more about this book, including an excerpt, go to www.Saturday-book.com. For more information on the author, visit www.IanMcEwan.com. To explore other great titles for reading groups, visit us at www.NanATalese.com.

Discussion Questions from the Publisher

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 the 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 respite from 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?

About the Author

Ian McEwan was born in 1948 in Aldershot, England, and now lives in London. He studied at the University of Sussex, where he received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970. While completing his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia, he took a creative writing course taught by the novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson.

McEwan's works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction three times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His bestselling novel Atonementreceived the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). He also won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and Prix Fémina Etranger (1993) for The Child in Time; and Germany's Shakespeare Prize in 1999.

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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