You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


I listened to Saturday, by Ian McEwan, over the end of December and beginning of January. It's the story of one Saturday in the life of Henry Perowne, a London neurosurgeon in his forties. The book has in the background the impending invasion of Iraq and a cargo plane that makes an emergency landing after a fire breaks out, leading to an investigation into terrorism.

Henry wakes up early one Saturday morning, sees the fiery plane, doesn't call the authorities, makes love to his wife, eats breakfast with his son, and heads out to the gym to meet a colleague for a game of squash. On the way to the gym, he is sidetracked by an antiwar march, and ends up in a minor auto accident. The driver of the other car ends up attacking him and trying to mug him, along with two cronies. Henry manages to escape with only a bruise and make his squash game. But only after noticing that the man, Baxter, has a neurological disability and trying to convince him he can help. This embarasses Baxter.

Henry continues on his day, playing his squash game (though getting irritated with his colleague for arguing the final point and finally beating him), visiting his mentally impaired mother, sitting in on a rehearsal of his eighteen-year-old son and fellow musicians. Occasionally he thinks he sees Baxter's red car.

The conflict finally comes into view in the finaly third of the book, when Henry's family comes home, including his college age daughter and his grumpy father-in-law. Baxter shows up with a knife and an accomplice, threatening the group and making vague demands. After smashing the father-in-law's nose and forcing the daughter to undress, he gets the daughter to recite some of her poetry. After this he is enthralled, so amazed by the poem that he has a complete change of heart. Henry and his son manage to incapacitate Baxter, the accomplice runs away, and the police come, making everything fairly normal. But Henry is called in to operate on Baxter, and he decides to do it because he feels guilty for abusing his position as a doctor to get away from Baxter the first time, and feels that the whole evening was somehow his fault.

I was not terribly impressed with the book as a whole. The first two thirds is very slow and quiet, without any conflict except for the auto accident. There's some philosophical ruminations, but they're not that deep or interesting. Henry is an upper class bourgeious man with pedestrian interests. He has no capacity for appreciating poetry or art, and little for music as well. The extended metaphor is that Baxter is incapable of appreciating his social position, or operating meaningfully in society, due to a genetic malfunction; Henry is unable to fully appreciate his daughter's poetry, or his son's music, due to his genetic makeup. However, the comparison is pretty thin, and is covered up by a lot of extraneous story. We learn a lot of Henry's history, and the story of his daughter's and father-in-law's (a famout poet himself) falling out. But throughout the first two thirds of the book I kept wondering what the book was really about. And I still can figure out what the whole point of the discussion about the Iraq war was all about, unless it was to show how wishy-washy and weak Henry's opinion's about the war are.

I was teetering between C+ and B-, up until the last chapter and a half. The last bits make the rest a little more interesting, though it still felt like a lot of fluff. I'll settle on a B-. It's not as good as the hype led me to expect it to be.


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