A few thoughts on Ian McEwan’s novel
It wasn’t obvious to me why the book was called Saturday but it became clear as I began that it was a ‘Saturday ‘ in the life of Henry Perowne.
Henry awoke early in the morning just ahead of the rest of the world. He was gazing out of his bedroom window when he observes not only the activities of the London Square on which he lives but a plane on fire.
Then comes the context it is 15th February 2003 when London hosts the biggest political demonstration ever in the UK, against the invasion of Iraq. Throughout the day Henry wonders whether it was a terrorist attack.
It is enough to get me thinking that the story is going to involve something about the invasion of Iraq. Well, it is but only as a backdrop. There is the big story but then there are the countless individual stories of the day. It is not every Saturday that such history is made nor as it turns out the typical Saturday for Henry.
It is typical in that he has it off from his work as a neurosurgeon at a nearby hospital, he also has it off with his wife. He has his encounters with his young adult kids one a Jazz musician the other a budding poet who happens to live in France (I hope I got that right) but who also happens to be returning this Saturday. There is a father in law who is an established poet who happens to be also returning, it must have been someone’s birthday but I can’t recall.
He plays his weekly squash match and visits the fishmonger all in a car that probably is not necessary for central London. If only Henry had walked he would have avoided the minor collision with Baxter as he took a U-turn to avoid the demo.
This interaction with Baxter becomes the core ‘Saturday’ story.
For me, the core passage is found on pages 258,
“For the past two hours he’s been in a dream of absorption that has dissolved all sense of time, and all awareness of the other parts of life. Even his awareness of his own existence has vanished. He’s been delivered into a pure present, free of the weight of the past or any anxieties about the future.
In retrospect, though never at the time, it feels like profound happiness. It’s a little like sex, in that he feels himself in another medium but it’s less obviously pleasurable, and clearly not sensual.
This state of mind brings a contentment he never finds with any passive form of entertainment.
Books, cinema, even music can’t bring him to this. This benevolent disassociation seems to require difficulty, prolonged demands on concentration and skills, pressure, problems to be solved, even danger.
It’s a feeling of clarified emptiness, of deep, muted joy.
Back at work and, lovemaking and Theo’s song aside, he’s happier than at any point on his day off, his valuable Saturday.
There must, he concluded as he stands to leave the theatre, be something wrong with him.”
And there I will leave it.