Saturday is a carefully executed study of a day in the life of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne and set against the backdrop of the Iraq war protest. As with many of McEwan’s novels, the plot hinges on the events that unfold following a chance incident. In this case the causal agent for all that follows is Perowne’s unpleasant encounter with Baxter, a low-life aggressive little bulldog of a man who, without wanting to give too much away, decides to pop up again in Perowne world ensuring that the poor man’s day goes from crap to very crap.
McEwan’s writing is, as ever, delicious to read. He can capture the essence of time and place better than most writers could only dream of (The Innocent is a great example if this). In Saturday, the fact that the story spans only 24 hours means that the plot can be woven through the descriptions of the minutia of Perowne’s life and for me this offered an insight into this strange middle class land that made for quite compelling reading. OK, so there were some events in Perowne’s day that made me skip a few pages. The seemingly endless depiction of the squash match had me praying for the sweet release of death before the end of the first round, but other than that I enjoyed this foray into the world of Perowne.
I have read some criticisms that object to the myopic middle class perspective, especially regarding the somewhat stereotypical study of Baxter. I can relate to those comments to some extent, but personally I found Perowne world all quite fascinating and at points amusing. As someone from a working class background myself this book was like an anthropologist’s study of posh people and boy was it an eye opener. I may as well have been hiding in a bush with a pair of binoculars for the gleeful thrill it gave me to observe how, as they say, the other half live. So while I accept the aforementioned points, I personally chose to read this detailed study of middle class life not as critique of McEwan’s inability to understand the workings of the George Forman grill while cooking on the Aga, but as a bemused gorilla sniffing an empty coke bottle and banging it on the floor before holding it to his ear. Intrigued.
The family, which comprises of neurosurgeon father, lawyer mother and 2 high achieving children live, as you would expect in a huge house in Fitzrovia Square. For anyone outside London think My fair Lady, the garden scene from Notting Hill, or any depiction of London as constructed by Americans. Man, this is poshville. Not a burger van or a burnt out pram in sight.
Following Perowne’s afternoon from hell the family come together for dinner and we can observe the creatures in their natural habitat, laughing gaily, exchanging opinions on politics without throwing chairs at each other, waxing lyrical about their time studying in Paris, grown up people calling each other “Daddy” and “darling”, not being surprised to find a bottle of wine on the table that wasn’t on a `two-for-one’ at Morrisons and all manner of behaviours that are as alien to me as those of the Wuka Wuka tribe of Borneo. I enjoyed it all immensely!
Then the evening goes, as they don’t say in Fitzrovia Square, a bit Pete Tongue. This leads me into more negative territory, with, as other reviewers have noted, a scene that was almost too ludicrous for words. This is the scene where delightful Daisy, poet extraordinaire, whips out a poem so enchanting that it stops Baxter, her assailant, in his tracks. Yes this really happens. Baxter, who at this point in the novel is happily grunting his way through Daisy’s enforced striptease sees a book of poetry written by the good lady herself and demands that she reads one the poems out loud. As her silken words waft gently towards Baxter’s ears all thoughts of `giving her one’ dissolve from his mind quicker than you can say “do you know one by Pam Ayers?”. Thank God for poetry eh. If only they had read out a few lines of John Keats during the Northern Ireland peace process they could have skipped through it in a week. Yes, I have to say this was a bit of a low point.
Despite this one flaw however, Saturday is clever, beautifully written and I would recommend it to all, whatever your class!!!!