Friday, March 31, 2006

Amber on Saturday

The last time I read an Ian McEwan book, I found the ending excessively bleak. Saturday ends on a somewhat happier note, and was generally a more pleasant reading experience to boot.

Too many authors, if they were to base a novel around a day in the life of a particular person, would take the traditional advice to write what you know and make the protagonist an author. I am thoroughly sick of this unimaginative, self-obsessed wankage (amusing from a blogger, I know) and was thus thrilled to note that Henry, our hero, is a brain surgeon with little tolerance for the meandering stories that constitute most literature. This viewpoint was so refreshing that I was able to ignore the sneaky incorporation of writer-characters in the forms of Henry's daughter and father-in-law.

Likewise, I was pleased to see a character in a literary novel who understands the deep appeal of loving monogamy.
Who else could love him so knowingly, with such warmth and teasing humour, or accumulate so rich a past with him? In one lifetime it wouldn't be possible to find another woman with whom he can learn to be so free, whom he can please with such abandon and expertise.
Too many books these days seem populated entirely with disconnected individuals who lack interpersonal bonds (and, in some cases, appreciation for the very concept of bonding). A family joined by love, not merely by DNA, is a glorious and complex system, and McEwan subtly and deftly shows us how having such a family affects nearly every aspect of Henry's day, and how nearly everything Henry does redounds to hearth and home.

Despite how easy it would have been to contemptuously slant his portrayal of Henry and make him into some kind of materialistic bourgeois philistine, McEwan keeps every one of his characters human: fallible, but with comprehensible motivations. Even the thugs who bring chaos to Henry's otherwise pleasant and unexciting life are well-drawn, not least because Henry, being an intelligent man, tries to understand them.

The best fiction, unless we, like Henry, find it mostly useless, reveals something new about our fellow human beings. Saturday shows us people as real as those we see every day, and shows us more about them than we are likely to see. Sometimes books are better than life. This is one of those times.
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