Friday, December 19, 2008

Saturday, Ian McEwan

I just read and very much liked Saturday by Ian McEwan. The protagonist is a neurosurgeon and the book is full of brain biology which I loved and have just barely enough familiarity with to have a sense, although far from true understanding, of. [THAT is a terrible sentence!! Sorry] Henry is a good man, a truly good man of somewhat limited imagination but firm grasp of his work and, in general, of his life. A brief run-in with a thug with a incipient Huntington's disease leads eventually to serious drama.

Two odd things happened in my mind as I read this. The book is set on a specific Saturday in February 2003, a day of anti-Iraq-war demonstrations in London, where the story is set, and also in New York. Although I did not take part in the NYC march to the UN I remember the day not in much detail but that I talked to someone in the evening who had been to the demonstration and that one reason I didn't go was that I was working several hours that day. I've never before had the sense of memory about a specific day that is the setting for a totally fictional story.

The odder things is that when I was reading the first scene with Baxter, the thug, I had a very, very strong deja vu. That happens when I've read something before. I do not forget strong scenes I've read. I was 99% sure I had not read this book, but I went to my log of books read to check and I had not. I do not believe the scene was excerpted anywhere and I would have been unlikely to have read it as I rarely read short fiction. All I could finally assume is that perhaps I read a long review that described this scene in some detail. Certainly I found one detail after another very, very familiar. But then other parts of the book were new to me.

Well, the scene was good enough to read twice if that happened, unlikely as it seems. Upon finishing I found it very satisfying to have read a novel about a family of sincerely good people with the "bad guy" shown in a much more complex and interesting way than usual.

An auxiliary remembrance sparked by the book was another instance of neurosurgery being a dangerous occupation -- far more dangerous than in this story. A very fine neurosurgeon I knew -- a gentlemanly man with a lovely wife I knew also -- had operated on a patient. The operation, as brain interventions can do, disarranged the man's emotional responses, not because the surgeon made any mistakes but because the brain is a delicate instrument that we don't understand very well and things happen. The patient became paranoid after he was "well", so paranoid he worked out a disguise and plan and actually went to the surgeon's house one morning and murdered him, wounding the wife as well. It was a real tragedy and some 20 years or so later it still makes me sad.

1 comment:

Angie said...

Liked the cover, read the book & thought it extremly good. Passed it on to someone, can't think who!