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Original Essays | September 30, 2014

Brian Doyle: IMG The Rude Burl of Our Masks

One day when I was 12 years old and setting off on my newspaper route after school my mom said will you stop at the doctor's and pick up something... Continue »
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Saturday Cover

ISBN13: 9780385511803
ISBN10: 0385511809
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Saturdays epigraph comes from Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow, whose novel Herzog features an academic facing the shortcomings of his life. The novel was published in 1964; how might the history of the early Sixties have influenced Bellows perspective? Forty years later, how does Ian McEwans protagonist embody current events?

2. At the end of the Saturdays first paragraph, as Henry wakes too early, McEwan writes, “And hes entirely himself, he is certain of it, and he knows that sleep is behind him: to know the difference between it and waking, to know the boundaries, is the essence of sanity.” To what else does Henry awaken as the novel progresses? In the book and in the world, who remains asleep (and unaware of their slumber)?

3. When Henry hears about the cargo planes safe landing, McEwan observes, “Schrödingers cat was alive after all.” How does Schrödingers thought-experiment, allowing two outcomes to co-exist during a period of uncertainty, apply to Henrys daily life? How does it express the nature of human thought during times of anxiety?

4. Was the collision between Henrys car and Baxters an accident? What visual cues (the type of car Henry associates with criminals, the “scarecrow” clothes that make him look like something other than a doctor) stoke the fire? What class conflicts are projected as the men argue? What determines who has more power in that situation?

5. Discuss the irony of the novels title. Henry intended to spend the day relaxing; does the modern world allow for any true respite from worry?

6. In your opinion, what accounts for the bliss between Henry and his wife? When he met her, did her vulnerability (through illness) feed their attraction, or was it merely a means for them to find one another? What accounts for Henrys uneasy relationship with his father-in-law?

7. In researching Saturday, Ian McEwan spent months observing brain surgery. What parallels exist between a writers craft and a surgeons? What is the effect of McEwans decision to cast Henry in the specialty of neurosurgery (as opposed to thoracic or orthopedic surgery, for example)? How does Henrys ease with medical terminology, but discomfort with the vocabulary of literature, influence your reading experience?

8. Jay Strauss moved to the U.K. in part because of his enthusiasm for socialized medicine. How would you describe the healthcare system presented in the novel?

9. Do you think Jay personifies most or few Americans? Is he more competitive than Henry?

10. As Henry watches his mothers dementia worsen, he labels the physiological reasons for her decline. Does his familiarity with science ease or aggravate the sadness of losing her?

11. One of Henrys last errands in the novel is to listen to attend a performance by Theos band. What does blues music, along with its American flavor, mean to Theo? Does Henry experience this art differently from the way he hears Daisys work?

12. Why was Baxters invasion of Henrys house essential to this novel? In what way can this scene be explored as a metaphor for politics, war, even global economics? Why was it also necessary for Henrys security system to be proven ineffective that night?

13. Using an anthology or website, read Matthew Arnolds nineteenth-century masterwork “Dover Beach” in its entirety. What caused it to resonate with Baxters memories? Can you think of any contemporary poems in free verse that would have served Daisys purpose so well?

14. What saves Henrys family from Baxter and his cohorts: Poetry? Pregnancy? Bravery? Intelligence? Luck? Divine intervention? Baxters illness? How would you have reacted in a similar situation?

15. As Henry returns to the hospital that night, he realizes this is where he feels most comfortable-even more so than when hes in the world of alleged leisure. Earlier in the novel, McEwan describes how orderly Henrys mother was; Henry wishes he had just once invited her to the operating theater. Is this sense of order and belonging innate to Henrys profession, or is it something Henry has ascribed to it? In what locale do you personally feel youre at the top of your game? Is this the same locale that puts you at ease?

16. Why is Henry willing to perform surgery on Baxter? What keeps Henry from craving the revenge Rosalind anticipated? Would you be able to drop the charges, as Henry hopes to do? How do you respond to McEwans questions: “Is this forgiveness? . . . Or is [Henry] the one seeking forgiveness?”

17. Can Henrys surgery on Baxter be called revenge? Is his probing of Baxters brain a violation? Or, is Henrys magnanimous act a victory of enlightened liberalism over Baxters primal power politics?

18. During Henrys reunion with Daisy, they waver between words of affection and a rapid-fire ideological debate about Iraq. How would such a debate have unfolded in your household?

19. Four generations are presented in Saturday, including Daisys child. What does each generation bestow, or hope to bestow, upon the next? What spurred such an exceptional level of accomplishment among the members of the Perowne family?

20. Discuss the element of storytelling itself in Saturday. Do the stories disseminated within this novel-by the broadcasters, the protesters, the lawless, the keepers of family legacy-all describe the same reality? Who or what has the power to influence what we believe? What literary devices did Ian McEwan use to evoke realism in this novel?

21. Examining the works of Ian McEwan as a continuum, how does Saturday enrich the portrait of life he has been crafting throughout his career?

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superd013, February 13, 2007 (view all comments by superd013)
Wonderful book. I've only gotten through a quarter of the book, but I'm already impressed.
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Product Details

A novel
McEwan, Ian
Nan A. Talese
World politics
London (england)
Psychological fiction
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.50x6.42x1.11 in. 1.31 lbs.

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Featured Titles » Morning News Tournament » Tournament of Books 2006
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
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Saturday Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.50 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Nan A. Talese - English 9780385511803 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Ian McEwan's new novel is generous, contemplative, and moving — and in good company, joining classics like Mrs. Dalloway and Ulysses that take place during a single day. McEwan intricately weaves characters and themes towards an eloquent and wrenching finale, and the beauty of his prose propels the plot with poetic momentum. Saturday is a gentle, brilliant, and inspiring work.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In the predawn sky on a Saturday morning, London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne sees a plane with a wing afire streaking toward Heathrow. His first thought is terrorism — especially since this is the day of a public demonstration against the pending Iraq war. Eventually, danger to Perowne and his family will come from another source, but the plane, like the balloon in the first scene of Enduring Love, turns out to be a harbinger of a world forever changed. Meanwhile, the reader follows Perowne through his day, mainly via an interior monologue. His cerebral peregrination records, in turn, the meticulous details of brain surgery, a car accident followed by a confrontation with a hoodlum, a far-from-routine squash game, a visit to Perowne's mother in a nursing home and a family reunion. It is during the latter event, at the end of the day, that the ominous pall that has hovered over the narrative explodes into violence, and Perowne's sense that the world has become 'a commuity of anxiety' plays out in suspense, delusion, heroism and reconciliation. The tension throughout the novel between science (Perowne's surgery) and art (his daughter is a poet; his son a musician) culminates in a synthesis of the two, and a grave, hopeful, meaningful, transcendent ending. If this novel is not as complex a work as McEwan's bestselling Atonement, it is nonetheless a wise and poignant portrait of the way we live now." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "The man who could staunchly write, as the southern extremity of Manhattan was still awash in fire and stench, that in effect Amor vincit omnia here lucidly shows us that civilization and culture and the life of the mind, fragile as they seemingly are, nonetheless have a resilience that can outlast barbarism." (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
"Review A Day" by , "There is no secret as to why Ian McEwan has gained such a large, intelligent and devoted readership. In book after book, and now, especially in Saturday, he has gone directly against the grain of fashionable contemporary cynicism and proved that a novel can be topical without being either obvious or dogmatic, that a writer can derive aesthetic sense from confronting the world's concerns." (read the entire review)
"Review A Day" by , "The imagination is blessed by its holder, just as the humanities humanize only those who are willing to be humanized. Ian McEwan's imagination is worth cherishing; Mohammed Atta's is not. It is just this tension that surfaces in his fine and affecting new novel, and which is never quite resolved." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "An increasingly mellowed but no less gripping McEwan....A sort of middle-class humanist manifesto: when you find yourself fortunate beyond all measure in a random universe, gratitude, generosity, and compassion are a decent response."
"Review" by , "Mr. McEwan has not only produced one of the most powerful pieces of post-9/11 fiction yet published, but also fulfilled that very primal mission of the novel: to show how we — a privileged few of us, anyway — live today."
"Review" by , "Saturday lives up to its own standards throughout. Its author's scrupulous application of his talent merits real gratitude from its readers. Saturday is distinguished by an intense literary imagination that is fundamentally scientific in its vision and its criteria." Marek Kohn
"Review" by , "One of the most oblique but also most serious contributions to the post-9/11, post-Iraq war literature, [Saturday] succeeds in ridiculing on every page the view of its hero that fiction is useless to the modern world."
"Review" by , "Few literary events are today met with as much enthusiasm as the publication of a McEwan novel. Saturday, a brilliant and graceful hymn to the contented contemporary man, will be greeted with cheers." Anita Shreve
"Review" by , "Saturday is a tightly wound tour de force of several strands — a Hitchcockian thriller, an allegory of the post-9/11 world, the portrait of a very attractive family, and a meditation on the fragility of life and all that we most value."
"Synopsis" by , From the pen of a master — the #1 bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author of Atonement — comes an astonishing novel that captures the fine balance of happiness and the unforeseen threats that can destroy it. A brilliant, thrilling page-turner that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Saturday is a masterful novel set within a single day in February 2003. Henry Perowne is a contented man — a successful neurosurgeon, happily married to a newspaper lawyer, and enjoying good relations with his children. Henry wakes to the comfort of his large home in central London on this, his day off. He is as at ease here as he is in the operating room. Outside the hospital, the world is not so easy or predictable. There is an impending war against Iraq, and a general darkening and gathering pessimism since the New York and Washington attacks two years before.

On this particular Saturday morning, Perownes day moves through the ordinary to the extraordinary. After an unusual sighting in the early morning sky, he makes his way to his regular squash game with his anaesthetist, trying to avoid the hundreds of thousands of marchers filling the streets of London, protesting against the war. A minor accident in his car brings him into a confrontation with a small-time thug. To Perownes professional eye, something appears to be profoundly wrong with this young man, who in turn believes the surgeon has humiliated him — with savage consequences that will lead Henry Perowne to deploy all his skills to keep his family alive.

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