Thursday, December 27, 2007

Book Review: Saturday

Today I read an excellent novel and feel like transcribing a response before I retire for the night. This is a mini-review that includes two quotations and a few comments. My intent is to reveal only whether this would appeal to you: a prospective reader. Attention to the diverse tags at the footer of this piece should clue you to this story's complexity.

The review and summary of Ian McEwan's Saturday you'll find at your favorite online bookseller calls this book "post-911 fiction." While I am uneasy about this label, I suppose it is appropriate. The story wraps itself around the events undertaken by one man in a single day in London. The man happens to be a neurosurgeon and the day happens to be Saturday, February 15, 2003 - the day 2 million Brits marched in Hyde Park against the impending Iraq war.

The protagonist - Henry Perowne - continually analyzes his own emotions and his own perspectives. Reflective and introspective are not common descriptors of neurosurgeons. They have a reputation (an unfair caricature, to be sure) as cocky brutes who see the entire hospital as an enterprise to support their masterful handiwork. I suspended belief for this element of plot, but needed not forgive other shortcomings. McEwan accurately (by this med student's appraisal) incorporated both the complexities of numerous neurosurgeries and the uncertainties of neurodegenerative disease.

The contemplative neurosurgeon is hardly unbelievable. His two children are artists: his son a blues musician; his daughter a poet. His pensive musings frequent upon his inability to understand them. By the time I reached this passage on page 54, I had committed to finishing the novel today.
Once, on a walk by a river - Eskdale in low reddish sunlight, with a dusting of snow - his daughter quoted to him an opening verse by her favourite poet. Apparently not many young women loved Philip Larkin the way she did. "If I were called in / To construct a religion / I should make use of water." She said she liked that laconic "called in" - as if he would be, as if anyone ever is. They stopped to drink coffee from a flask, and Perowne, tracing a line of lichen with a finger, said that if he ever got the call, he'd make use of evolution. What better creation myth? An unimaginable sweep of time, numberless generati0ns spawning by infintesimal steps complex living beauty out of inert matter, driven on by the blind furies of random mutation, natural selection and environmental change, with the tragedy of forms continually dying, and lately the wonder of minds emerging with them morality, love, art, cities - and the unprecedented bonus of this story happening to be demonstrably true.
This prose is just my style, the modernist presentation suits my taste in literature and the subject matter is not too far from my everyday life to disorient me on this simple restful vacation I find myself on. A lot of other people said good things about this book, so now I've put my hat into the mix.

I leave you now with verse selected from the climax of the story:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Bonus points will be awarded to my readers who recall the author of these words.


Anonymous said...

I wish could claim to be "literary" enough to have recognized this, but I am at least literary enough to (a) appreciate it when you shared it with us and (b) know how to identify it quickly, via Internet.

--Lisa S.

thomas said...

Ahhh... behold the perils of Wikipedia. Your answer is correct but only in a way.

The correct answer reaches a bit deeper than the novel cited above in Wikipedia. Think middle school poetry anthology...