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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Saturday (2005) by Ian McEwan

Book Review
Saturday (2005)
 by Ian McEwan

  Ian McEwan is an author who immediately challenges the "Early/Middle/Late" principle of 3 works for any author in the literary canon.  Saturday is the last of seven books he place in the first edition of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.  Since 1001 Books was published in 2006, he's published six more novels, one of which (On Chesil Beach, 2007) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.  He has yet another novel coming out this year, which would seem to indicate that there is no clear point at which to demarcate the periods of McEwan's writing except for the beginning. 

  As far as the beginning goes, The Cement Garden, 1978, which is his first published novel, makes a great choice.  None of his other early books clearly surpasses it, and it was published first, so pick that one.   The next question is, what is the cut-off point for mid-period Ian McEwan, and of course, here the difficulties begin.  At least setting the boundary between early and middle should be possible.

  I think the proper dividing line is Black Dogs (1992) and Enduring Love (1997).   Enduring Love is the first book that really explores his mid-period combination of the exquisite workings of fate with specialized medical and scientific knowledge wielded for good and/or evil by a troubled protagonist.   Picking a middle period representative is pretty easy, probably Atonement (2001), which is his best seller, his most famous and maybe his best book as well.  It's the cut off for the middle period where his continued productivity causes problems.

   It could be anywhere, really,  On Chesil Beach, his last book to be nominated for a major literary prize, makes a certain amount of sense, or the next book, Solar (2010).  The late period representative is impossible to determine.   Cutting out the other five books brings his 1001 Books total down to two, which seems about right for a truly representative canon.

   Saturday, then, is a cut. It is squarely inside his middle period, about a single day in the life of a neurosurgeon who has a chance encounter with a Huntington's disease suffering cockney gangster in a fender bender caused by Iraqi war protestors.  The liberal use of brain surgeon language makes Saturday an ideal Kindle read- being able to touch a particular term and bring up the Wikipedia page before progressing was invaluable in this case, and you can count on McEwan for a reasonable length for all of his books. 

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