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Saturday by Ian McEwan, 2005, Vintage Books
First sentence: Some hours before dawn Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon, wakes to find himself already in motion, pushing back the covers from a sitting position, and then rising to his feet.
I was enjoying this book so much right from the start that I rationed my reading so that it would last longer. Set in London just before the Iraq war, it deals with the experiences of one Saturday in the life of a family and centres on the husband/father who works at a nearby hospital.
Awakened in the early hours at his house in Charlotte Square, not far from the Post Office Tower, he sees a plane headed for Heathrow, but apparently on fire.
His wife still asleep, he goes downstairs where his son is in the kitchen ending his day. They talk about the daughter/sister who is arriving back home in the afternoon.
The son is a 'Blues' musician. He chose not to go to university but pursue instead his interest in music, and has already found success and achievement. The daughter is a poet who is about to publish her first collection. Her mother´s father has been an inspiration to her but more recently they fell out. He is also coming to stay and a reconciliation is hoped for. His large house in France, close to the Pyrenees, was where the family had spent memorable holidays as the children were growing up.
Perowne is due to play squash with an American colleague that morning. He sets off in his Mercedes and finds the streets crowded with anti-war demonstrators gathering for a march to Hyde Park. Normally he would be able to cross Tottenham Court Road but access is being closed off. A policeman allows him to drive across as the road is still clear at this time. Entering the road at the other side, a car pulls out in front of him. He swings away but there is contact; the other car loses a wing mirror. He gets out of his car to be faced by three threatening types from the other car................
The incident leads to everyone mentioned so far in this account (except the policeman) being involved in a tense situation at the Perowne´s house in the afternoon of that Saturday. You would expect a knife to appear at some point given the frequency of knife-crime in cities.
The story has a grandeur, a word McEwan uses a lot, but it is present in the locations, occupations and activities of the Perowne family. These factors will also be aspirational or admirable to many who would read the book. In fact, to complete the presitigious mix of occupations in the family, the wife is a lawyer. There are insights into the hard-working earlier married-life of the couple, living in a flat in Archway, to complete the picture of their rise to a deserved success.
Something, you are sure, is going to go very wrong indeed. But how will this meritorious family come through? Do they deserve to? Does the author have an attitude about them, and if so, whose side is he going to be on?
I also enjoyed, aside from the main plot, the London setting, plus a recipe for an expensive fish soup, and the summaries of the cases for and against the Bush/Blair war against Iraq. Which characters line up for and against the war, do you think? And what happened to the plane so ominously on fire over London?
No hesitation: ten out of ten!
London Blues by Anthony Frewin, 1997; my version: New Exit Press
First Sentence: If Tim Purdom hadn´t made all of those black-and-white porno movies in London back in the early 1960s he´d probably still be alive today.
It was lined up on my bookshelf for years, unread, probably left for me by Nick, my son, a worldchamp reader whose idea of a holiday is to sit where it is warm and read, read, read. I eventually took it up and read it in January, 2006. I was probably feeling like some contact with London, where my wife and I had a house for 14 years. Reading the book brought back memories of an earlier period when names like Profumo, Stephen Ward, and Christine Keeler were in the news and scandal columns of the papers.
The book was better than it looks. The girl on the cover