Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SATURDAY by Ian McEwan

How refreshing it is to read about a family that is affluent but not dysfunctional. Henry is a forty-something neurosurgeon, and his wife Rosalind is an attorney. Their two grown children, Theo and Daisy, are artistically-inclined and found their callings thanks to Rosalind's father, an egotistical, hard-drinking poet. Like Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the entire novel takes place within the span of 24 hours. Henry witnesses a fiery plane on its way to Heathrow and then has a minor fender-bender, with major consequences, on his way to his usual Saturday squash match. Henry's ruminations on the events of the day, some mundane, including visits to his mother and to the fishmonger, and some not, provide a window into his soul. To some readers, the book may come off as a little too cerebral, but I didn't find it so. After all, the main character is a brain surgeon, and there's a fair amount of medical description, which I found fascinating. I don't think any author at work today writes more lyrically or with more vivid imagery than Ian McEwan. More important, though, are the intriguing ethical questions he addresses—also a staple of his novels. One of the big ones here is whether Henry is within his rights to use his medical expertise to dupe a sick man in order to save his own skin. One word to the wise: Do not read the book flap before reading the book, as it gives away a surprising incident that takes place late in the day/book.

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