‘Saturday’: One Day in the Life

Zoe Heller writes in the New York  Times:             

Mcewan164b When British journalists complain — as they often do — about the ”elitism” of contemporary British literature, the honorable exception they often cite is the fiction of Ian McEwan. 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 the cogs and wheels of his plots with unerring meticulousness. Even as the menacing, predatory mood of his novels tends to engender anxiety, the reliability of their craftsmanship — the relentlessness of their forward motion — instills confidence. The result, for the reader, is a sort of serene tension. That ticktock resonating through the paragraphs is the countdown to some horrible disaster, certainly, but also the sound of a perfectly calibrated machine working just as it should.

In ”Saturday,” McEwan’s new novel, these characteristic virtues of structural elegance and coherence are on prominent display — not least in the Aristotelian discipline with which he has confined the temporal span of his story to a single day. The day in question, bookended by two symmetrical episodes of lovemaking, belongs to a British neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne. Perowne is a fortunate man. In addition to his worthy, fulfilling job and the panoply of upper-middle-class privileges it pays for, he is blessed with a joyous domestic life. He has two successful, attractive children — 23-year-old Daisy, who is about to publish her first collection of poetry, and 18-year-old Theo, a prodigiously talented blues musician. He also has a lovely, capable wife, Rosalind, with whom, after nearly a quarter-century of marriage, he remains deeply in love.

This multitude of blessings, coupled with his confidence in the certainty of scientific progress, gives rise to a contentment that verges perilously on complacency. In another time and place, Perowne would almost certainly be a smug man. But it is his fate to live in the early 21st century — in the ”baffled and fearful” days following 9/11 and leading up to the current war in Iraq — and neither his embarrassment of riches, nor his general inclination to optimism, can protect him from the darkness of his times.

Read more here.

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