SATURDAY by Ian McEwan (Knopf Canada), 279 pages, $34 cloth. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Sometimes a story told from a shamelessly male perspective can be a very good thing.
That's how Ian McEwan's Saturday plays out. This testosterone-driven follow-up to Atonement goes inside the mind of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne. Over a single Saturday, the possibly past-his-peak hero muses on all the big life questions.
He sees a plane that might have been hijacked, performs a series of complex brain operations, gets into a car accident that later has huge consequences, plays squash, visits his Alzheimer's-ridden mother, attends his son's band rehearsal, prepares a dinner party - all set against the backdrop of a mammoth demonstration protesting the UK's impending invasion of Iraq.
McEwan's sense of detail is awesome. The accounts of Perowne's medical operations, for example, are scientifically precise, and his riff on his son's sensational blues playing shows in-depth knowledge of music theory.
But because McEwan is such a gifted writer, the jargon doesn't detract from the situations and instead heightens their power: a man can send someone over the moon with the bend of a guitar string; another can save lives with just anaesthetic and a knife.
Each event takes us deeper into the man. A squash game with his professional rival/friend becomes a meditation on competitiveness. Perowne's arguments over dinner with his poet daughter about the war uncover the creeping complacency that comes with middle age. The events surrounding his car accident show Perowne's insensitivity to the way he wields his power. This is a gripping portrait of a man who suspects he's heading downhill.
And there are transcendent moments, like the brief, utterly heartbreaking sequence describing the encounter with his mother, as devastating as it is subtle.