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Saturday is a novel set within a single day in February 2003. Henry Perowne is a contented man – a successful neurosurgeon, happily married to a newspaper lawyer, and enjoying good relations with his children, who are young adults. What troubles him is the state of the world – the impending war against Iraq, and a general darkening and gathering pessimism since the New York and Washington attacks two years before. On this particular Saturday morning, Perowne makes his way to his usual squash game with his anaesthetist, trying to avoid the hundreds of thousands of marchers filling the streets of London, protesting against the war. A minor accident in his car brings him into a confrontation with a small-time thug called Miller. To Perowne’s professional eye, something appears to be profoundly wrong with this young man. Miller, in his turn, believes the surgeon has humiliated him, and visits the opulent Perowne home that evening, during a family reunion – with savage consequences that will lead Henry Perowne to deploy all his skills to keep this doomed figure alive.

Ian McEwan’s interest in science is further developed in this novel. Allusions to Darwin (in particular to the famous phrase with which he launched his book’s coda, “There is grandeur in this view of life”) pepper the book. As the story unfolds, McEwan seems to be saying that at some level we can escape our biological destiny.

saturday by Ian McEwan

Published by Vintage
ISBN-10: 99469685
ISBN-13: 978-0099469681

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11 Responses to “Saturday by Ian McEwan”

  1. Susie Says:

    I would be interested to know whether other readers can see this connection with ‘the grandeur in this view of life’. It seemed more a fatalistic story about how one small incident can have huge consequences.


    Helen Reply:

    I agree that the story appears fatalistic but I think it also shows that not all fate is the Thomas Hardy type of tragic fate. The plane that Perowne sees at the beginning of the novel wasn’t a disaster after all, the family escape the violent incident and Perowne saves Miller’s life. ‘the grandeur in this view of life’ I took to mean both the small and the large issues being equally significant and that men and women can rise above the inevitable and have some element of the grandeur of existence in their life.

  2. Shirley Says:

    It reads like a series of tableaux – the intruder episode is really dramatic and as vivid as a good TV drama. I find Perowne rather smug about his priviledged life style and self-absorbed but perhaps that is inevitable when he is the narrator and the plot revolves round his inner thoughts over just one day. How one of the press reviewers can say it is ‘tight’ prose is a mystery to me. That is surely not McEwan’s style
    - attention to minute detail I would say and observational, like Darwin!

    Rachel Reply:

    It is that level of self-absorption that, to me, is “the grandeur in this view of life”. I too found the narrator rather smug and unlikeable in fact, but as the reader of his Saturday we are witness to the minutae of his inner thoughts.

    We all have our own inner thoughts that are specifically important to us and this does make them more or less importan than other people’s inner thoughts and turmouils. Our own individual thoughts are our own specific grandues in our own views of life :)

  3. Brenda Says:

    Why does Perowne save Baxters life? Clearly he uses the diagnosis as a way of diverting attention from the threat of violence (both in the morning and the evening) but once Baxter has fallen down the stairs the threat has gone away. He probably knows that if he goes to the hospital he will do whatever he can to save Baxters life (he doesn’t have the thoughts of revenge that his wife fears he might) but he could choose not be involved at all – tell the hospital that he’s had a few drinks so isn’t in a position to operate / tell them that he is personally involved / has just suffered the trauma of a threat to himself and his familiy. Do you think McEwan is trying to portray Perowne as having evolved beyond the level of a purely
    emotional response (revenge) to a place where he can ‘rise above’and see the situation in purely clinical terms – there is a man who is in danger of dying and he, Perowne, has the skills to save his life. Or does he feel sorry for Baxter, because life has dealt him a rotten hand, whereas Perowne and his family ‘have it all’?

  4. Richard Says:

    Ian McEwan’s novels illustrate and explore the effect of the intrusion of accident into people’s lives, the accident being the product of the environment in which it takes place, the equivalent of the introduction of a variation which influences the development of a species. So they are Darwinian. Their form and prose are so unbendingly controlled, so rigidly exclusive of spontaneity, so, one might say, dead, as to exclude all possibility of accident, felicitous or infelicitous, in the novels themselves. So, in Darwinian terms, they are leading the novel up an evolutionary blind alley.

  5. Margaret Says:

    On the second reading of ‘Saturday’ I focussed on heredity. It was interesting to learn Henry’s thoughts on how the skillfulness in music and poetry shown by Grammaticus was inherited by his grandchildren Theo and Daisy, and that Henry’s mother as well as being a good swimmer, was very orderly which he thought may have accounted for his like for the orderliness of the instruments in the operating theatre. Yet, Henry may inherit dementia, although I don’t recall this being explored.

    The essence of the novel, I felt, however was Henry’s wonder at the working of the brain. The mystery lying in how the “one kilogram or so of cells actually encodes information, how it holds, experiences, memories, dreams and intentions”. Henry has faith that the secret of how matter becomes conscious will eventually be revealed and that the grandeur is in this view of life.

    Clare Reply:

    I have to admit that I am intensely irritated by Perowne and his complacency that his high achieving family are as they are because of the good genes they have inherited from both him and his wife! Of course all this is to contrast with depraved Baxter the inheritor of ‘Chorea’ but poetic Daisy and perfect Theo(he dropped out of school but it didn;t matter – he is so gifted that his music is already attracting rave reviews) made me feel angry. Perowne says on the night that he is watching the plane that it doesn;t matter what parents do for their children it is all down to genes! So presumably if financial disaster had struck a decade before and the family had been shunted into a council flat in a deprived inner-city area, Daisy and Theo would still have been just as polished and intellectual. Does anyone really believe their genes would have saved them to that extent?

  6. Rachel Says:

    Clare – I totally agree! The Perowne clan in general left me with feelings of intense irritation as well. Whether or not Daisy and Theo’s talent is carried in their DNA is an irrelevant question if, like you say, they had been shunted into a deprived council estate because they would not have had the support or outlets to display these talents anyway.

    It annoyed me that at no point did any of the characters seem remotely grateful for what was, let’s face it, an incredibly priveleged life, without which they probably couldn’t have achieved all that they had so far achieved.

    Clare Reply:

    I think that of the two “Darwin linked” novels I have read so far, Saturday has aroused the most curiosity in me – I was glad that other readers also found Perowne’s lifestyle a bit too Sunday-Times -Colour Supplement-y for their taste but on reflection the novelist is no fool so he must be deliberately invoking that atmosphere for some purpose. Thank you Rachel for pointing out that nowhere is any gratitude expressed by any member of the family for their huge benefits. One friend I discussed the plot with said that maybe McEwan has set out to depict two extremes of “Nature and Nurture” and then manufactured a collision! So we meet two totally polarised units – Baxter (genetically flawed to an extreme degree) and his under-class mates from the poorest background vis a vis the Perowne clan who have every genetic advantage coupled with every material good! They “Struggle to survive” in the big house on the Square and the good genes win the contest. Then a twist to that Lanseer picture of the eagle and fox swooping down on the fallen stags – Perowne picks over and opens up Baxter’s brain -( with a Victorian Scientist’s curiosity I felt) but not to kill him … to save his life and restore him! Also there must be parallels with the West’s treatment of Iraq… Does anyone think this is a valid idea?

  7. Rebecca Stott Says:

    Baxter’s eruption into the novel at the end made me think of Jekyll and Hyde – in that novel (also influenced by Darwin I think) the apelike Jekyll appears out of the apparently-respectable Hyde who is a scientist like Perowne. Stevenson’s novel is all about hypocricy and double standards, about how an apparently respectable man might have a dark underside who roams the city doing violent and unspeakable acts and can’t be reined in. He has something of Freud’s ID about him. So in Saturday Baxter’s eruption into the Sunday Supplement world of Perowne does something similar except that in McEwan’s case Baxter can be eventually subsumed. But it is almost as if McEwan wants us to see that Perowne and Baxter are kin – ‘netted together’ to use Darwin’s words.