I’ve always believed in the symbolism of small moments, that we can find meaning in our lives through the conflicts and triumphs that we have every day. Saturday by Ian McEwan, more than just about any other book I’ve read, captures this idea beautifully using a single day in the life of Dr. Henry Perowne.
Saturday, as the title implies, is a story that takes place entirely on a single day — February 15, 2003 . The book begins with Perowne, a noted British neurosurgeon, inexplicably waking up some hours before dawn. The story follows Perowne through the routine of a Saturday — a squash game with a friend, a visit to his mother, a trip to the grocery store and preparation for a dinner with his family. The day is interrupted, however, when a small traffic accident forces Perowne into a confrontation with a small-time thug that has ramifications far beyond the few dents and scratches on his car.
The thing I loved about this book is that McEwan is deft at drawing out the conflicts and confusions that make up the drama of a single day. For example, after his traffic accident, Perowne heads to his weekly squash game. In the wake of his frustration about the accident, Preowne turns the friendly game turns into an epic battle against his opponent and himself:
The constant change of direction tries him as much as his gathering self-hatred. Why has he volunteered for, even anticipated with pleasure, this humiliation, this torture? It’s at moments like these in a game that the essentials of his character are exposed: narrow, ineffectual, stupid–and morally so. The game becomes an extended metaphor of character defect. Every error he makes is so profoundly, so irritatingly typical of himself, instantly familiar, like a signature, like a tissue scar or some deformation in a private place.
It’s sections like this (the quote might not do it justice) that made me enjoy Saturday. The entire novels is an intense and microscopic look at a single day, complete with every moment of random thought and analysis an individual might have in a day. Unfortunately, it’s this quality that also makes the book really difficult to get into. The entire book, even the conflict and climax, seem to move slowly. As I read, I constantly felt like I just wasn’t getting anywhere with the story. I kept reading because McEwan’s prose is so elegant and I love the way he captures moments, but at the same time I kept wanting the story to move along a little bit.
I’m having a hard time deciding whether I recommend this book or not. I enjoyed it, but I think you have to be a particularly patient and willing reader in order to get past the slow parts to start appreciating the book. If you don’t like to wait, or don’t like the prospect of a book that doesn’t seem to have a driving force until well into the story, you won’t make it past the first 50 pages of Saturday. But if you’re a reader with patience, this book is well worth the time and effort it takes to read.
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