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April  17

Anything but 'Everyday'

Saturday, by Ian McEwan. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, New York, 2005. 289 pp., $26.00Saturday

Before I dive into this week's review, a word of thanks to the many "Barista-philes" who were moved to post responses to my inaugural column about Angels & Demons. I am secure in my opinion that intellectual deconstruction of Dan Brown's work diminishes the entertainment value. With respect to the speculative commentary on my forthcoming The American Revelation, the easiest way to resolve your questions is to order an advance copy of the book on the web, or buy one when it begins to appear in stores in May. 

Now to the matter at hand. Scanning the names of Ian McEwan's eleven earlier works listed at the front of Saturday, I realize that I have been a chronic fan – addict might be a better word –  having read all but one, The Cement Garden.

Those of you who are likewise attracted to McEwan may  have noted a gradual diminishing of overt macabre effects in his recent writing, and a barely-perceptible, concomitant increase in emphasis upon the subtle horrors of quotidian life.  I am thinking of the transitions from Enduring Love to Amsterdam to Atonement


No contemporary author writes better about obsession and its vicissitudes. McEwan is a connoisseur of the infinite, pernicious ways in which loving men and women (and children) become involved with each other. He lays down the deceptively simple components of a relationship, and then proceeds to allow the reader in. Or rather, he manipulates you as a reader into experiencing the mental illusion of being in control, of supposedly understanding the narrative, page by page passing by as if in a trance, until suddenly – and this literary tipping point comes at different places for everyone – you snap to attention and realize that he has been in utter dominance over you since the first word. You pause for a moment and think about the kind of virtuosic writer who can manufacture ambiguity in your mental reading process, an erotic sensation of fading in and out of lucidity. You might even conjure up a vestigial memory of a high school or college English class, where the teacher talked about the "omniscient" narrator. McEwan is securely inside that modernist tradition – Joyce, Kafka, Mann, Proust, and Woolf – but he takes it one step further by perverting it, in the lofty sense. He is able to maintain omniscience on two levels – inside or outside the manufactured consciousnesses of his characters – or actually three levels, if you include your own mind.

I am expounding far longer than my tolerant Barista editor allows. I have intentionally said nothing in this so-called "review" about the book because this is one story where foreknowledge is a disaster. Follow Dr. Henry Perowne, a successful London neurosurgeon, through the course of Saturday, February 15, 2003. After you finish reading this novel, I guarantee you will never again accept the absurd concept of "everyday life."

Neil Baldwin will be in conversation with Sig Gissler on Washington Post Book World "Live Online," Tuesday, April 19, at 3:00 p.m., talking about the National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prizes.         

April 17, 2005 in Good Reads by Neil Baldwin | Permalink


Can't wait to read it... those who have read it say it's his best so far.

I thought Atonement was a masterpiece... and enjoyed Amsterdam.

Posted by: Pam | Apr 17, 2005 3:57:33 PM

Far be it from me to be even a dash churlish, but is it all too much to expect that a book review say "something" specifically about the book being reviewed re plot. characters, motivation, etc.? Especially if, as he notes, the reviewer happens to be expounding at greater length than the barista commonly allows? If the sort of review Neil Baldwin did today were of his own forthcoming book, and if this non-review review happened to be a bit negative, I'd expect him to be hopping mad, after all. Rightfully so. But then I am the sort of schnook who wants to know more about, say, "Moby Dick"{ than just that it's about this big white whale, and I'm also someone who's never read McEwan (though I did see movies made from two of his novels and found them both excruciating to sit through).

Posted by: cathar | Apr 17, 2005 7:16:05 PM

Why does everything you post sound like a lecture?

(...and I'm also someone who's never read McEwan (though I did see movies made from two of his novels and found them both excruciating to sit through).

Some of us find it excruciating to read through your long winded posts.

Hint- maybe you should read the books - and you would know what this reviewer is talking about.

Posted by: Pam | Apr 17, 2005 7:28:53 PM

But the idea of a review is to intrigue me to read the book. So it helps then to tell me something about it that will make me want to pick it up, yes? (Beyond your own rave, of course.) And I can't imagine you need lecturing, Pam. An occasional chiding, yes.

Posted by: cathar | Apr 18, 2005 10:15:16 AM

The reviewer writes...
"I have intentionally said nothing in this so-called "review" about the book because this is one story where foreknowledge is a disaster.."

This review seems to be more about the style of writing than the actual book.

As suggested before... pick up the book and try it... or read the NYT review if you want to more about the actual story.


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