Ian McEwan, the bestselling author of Atonement, follows an ordinary man through a Saturday whose high promise gradually turns nightmarish. Henry Perowne–a neurosurgeon, urbane, privileged, deeply in love with his wife and grown-up children–plans to play a game of squash, visit his elderly mother, and cook dinner for his family. But after a minor traffic accident leads to an unsettling confrontation, Perowne must set aside his plans and summon a strength greater than he knew he had in order to preserve the life that is dear to him.
[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.