Sunday, October 22, 2006

late on Saturday

I've been away for a couple of days with other things on my mind. I had hoped to get my thoughts on Saturday down before I left, while they were fresh in my mind but I found that there was so much to say that I couldn't possibly manage it.

But I must say something about Saturday.
It is one of the best books I have read so far this year.
It is dense but readable. The author has a lot to say and he says it well, without preaching. His characters are everyman, maintaining the complexity of humanity, exposing human weaknesses and contradictions.

Without reminding me in any way Atonement, one of McEwan's earlier works, it has all those qualities that made that a great book - good story, well drawn, authentic characters, clear, unpretentious descriptive writing.

McEwan places his protaganist Henry, an ultra-rational neurosurgeon, within a largely artistic family and logs his reactions to an often irrational (familiar and real) world of terrorists, peace marches, petty crime and medical tragedy putting us into his head for one pivotal day in his life, a specific day in Feb. 2003. The villian of the piece, Baxter, who ultimately threatens Henry's comfortable life and family is someone we are tempted to be sympathetic to because of his medical condition and social deprivation.

The book raises moral questions. Is violence ever justified? It is easier to ignore or minimise distant threats but when they come close one's reactions seem clearer. If violence is needed when it threatens you personally can you extend that strategy to the international scene? Does art trump reason? Can poetry reach the irrational and divert them from violence where reason or force cannot- as the poem diverted Baxter away from his intended violence? Where does responsibility begin and end? Henry in a way drew the dangerous Baxter to him and his family by his earlier actions. The novel ends with Henry and his family safe and Baxter's life in his hands. But Henry does not take revenge and instead tries to pick up the messy pieces left from a situation he had played a role in creating.

When they're feeling abandoned in the dark, people could do worse than cling to one another. McEwan's novel ends with the hard-won virtues of forgiveness, familial love, and decency. It's not the grace found at the end of "Atonement," but there's something moving in the fact that Henry always can be counted on to do the decent thing. [source]

I notice that Saturday is # 2 on this list: 1001 books to read before you die.

Interesting also that my the book my friend Mamie raved about, Never Let me Go, is #1!

Looking over the list I see I have managed to read only about 20 of the first 200 on the list and about 33 of the first 300 so extrapolating on this basis I probably have about 90% of the 1001 left to read!!

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Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)