[McEwan's] gift of observation, wonderfully precise, now comes thick and fast. There is next to nothing in this novel that feels forced; the author's mature attention illuminates equally everything it falls on ... This being McEwan, the accident eventually hardens into something much darker and involves questions of how humane and civilised men might confront terror to protect things they hold dear. On this Saturday of all Saturdays, such questions carry complex implications. And the answers, in this profound and urgent novel, are never less than surprising.
In Saturday, McEwan's new novel, these characteristic virtues of structural elegance and coherence are on prominent display ... In giving us a protagonist so steadfastly hostile to the charms of his own art, McEwan signals a return to some of the questions about the purpose and value of literature that he posed in Atonement. Here, though, the contemporary setting lends the questions a new moral urgency ... In Saturday, as in all McEwan's work, there is much to admire in the efficiency and clarity with which he marshals his themes. Here, though, his control over his material is too pronounced. The final chapters, with their literal enactment of the notion that the truest poetry is the most feigning, only reiterate what has already been amply, if implicitly, communicated in the course of the novel. And in doing so, they threaten to undermine the very literary immediacy that they champion. Overstatement is still overstatement, even when effected with a knowing wink to the reader ... In other novels, McEwan has proved more than able at capturing the breathing warmth of life in fiction's cold frame. Here, though, his symmetries seem to have gotten the better of him and his art comes perilously close to stifling life altogether.
Saturday catalogues the local only in order to focus on the global ... By recording with such loving care the elements of one rich Englishman's life, Saturday explores the question of to what extent it is possible to insulate yourself against the world's concerns ... Most of the fictions provoked by post-9/11 politics have taken up positions as clearly as a party spokesman. But Saturday, in common with Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, is subtle enough to be taken as a warning against either intervention or against isolationism ... As in the best political novels, the evidence and arguments are distributed with careful ambiguity ... Medical language, though, is only one of the registers in the prose. McEwan is one of the least flashy stylists of his generation, less quotable than Martin Amis or Julian Barnes, but, especially in Atonement and now this book, his voice has settled into scrupulous, sensual rhythms in which even something as simple as a 24-hour news bulletin is subject to careful choices of adjective and noun ... Saturday gives no sense of McEwan's talent taking a day off. One of the most oblique but also most serious contributions to the post-9/11, post-Iraq war literature, it succeeds in ridiculing on every page the view of its hero that fiction is useless to the modern world.
Saturday is a dismayingly bad book. The numerous set pieces—brain operations, squash game, the encounters with Baxter, etc.—are hinged together with the subtlety of a child’s Erector Set. The characters too, for all the nuzzling and cuddling and punching and manhandling in which they are made to indulge, drift in their separate spheres, together but never touching, like the dim stars of a lost galaxy. The politics of the book is banal, of the sort that is to be heard at any middle-class Saturday-night dinner party, before the talk moves on to property prices and recipes for fish stew. There are good things here, for instance the scene when Perowne visits his senile mother in an old-folks’ home, in which the writing is genuinely affecting in its simplicity and empathetic force. Overall, however, Saturday has the feel of a neoliberal polemic gone badly wrong; if Tony Blair—who makes a fleeting personal appearance in the book, oozing insincerity—were to appoint a committee to produce a 'novel for our time,' the result would surely be something like this.
The desired effect [of the opening passage] is vividness, proximity; the result is the opposite, with the adjectives muffling the screaming, so that it is no longer screaming but only screaming-that-is-being-written-about. Few contemporary writers are as fixated as McEwan on physical violence; yet no one’s prose is less violent than his ... Where sounds, through his window panes, elude him, and dialogue is always forced and automatic-sounding, McEwan sees with remarkable clarity ... Saturday is not a suspenseful novel; after the march forces Perowne into a minor car accident, the book heads with great deliberation toward its crisis. When it finally comes, the crisis is awful and McEwanly lurid ... Having pressed further into the reaches of consciousness and pain in Atonement, [McEwan] has pulled back. Henry Perowne, ultracompetent, scientific, reasonable, in the end supports the invasion of Iraq. The daytime glass through which he sees the world becomes, at night, a mirror. He flinches, seeing his reflection—but not for very long.
... brilliant but flawed ... Saturday tends to get bogged down with a surfeit of details. Everything in Perowne's day, as it's happening, has to be explained and expounded upon ... While the final effect is like a pointillist painting that adds up to something amazing, waiting for McEwan to connect the dots becomes a little tiring. Even though the novel doesn't quite collapse under the weight of its structure, it does sag a bit in the middle ... What saves the day (literally) is that McEwan is one of the most intelligent writers around, and the trips he takes the reader on in these numerous asides are almost always worth it. And yet, despite the author's intelligence and mastery of language, Saturday has its share of faults ... In Saturday McEwan gives us in a few hundred pages—not a life—but a day, and he does it brilliantly.
An increasingly mellowed but no less gripping McEwan ... Comprised by an active awareness of his place in the world, of his love for family and work, and of the contingencies that make his life his own, and that make Baxter’s life his own, Henry’s thoughts—especially since they’re informed also by a matter-of-fact understanding of the neurological processes that emerge as behavior and look like choice—envelop us in a total immersion experience.
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.