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May 10, 2005

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Worried about what to read on your summer break? Worry no longer. Today the 2005 Man Booker Prize for Fiction 'longlist' was announced. At 17 novels it was one of the shortest longlists for some time, but more than enough for a few days at the beach. A... [Read More]

Comments

Molly

I do believe the May issue of Harper's has a negative review of Saturday, too.

Scott

Harper's was a negative review, but not all that interesting. It basically got at McEwan via the angles that had already been taken--the book's plot being too tidy, Henry's proclivity for being icily disconnected even when facing down an angry mobster, the unbelievable bit toward the end with the poem.

The excerpts I've read make the book sound a little better than the reviewers' negative takes, but I also think their critiques are valid.

Molly

The Harper's review also points out how the self-satisfied Henry Perowne is too thin of a character to hold "Saturday" together. Perowne might have some eloquent things to say about the other consumer goods in his life - he delivers a particularly enthusiastic tribute to his tea kettle - but this is the stuff of a decent short story, not that of a compelling novel.

marcus breslin

I'm a big fan of Ian McEwan since reading Everlasting Love. I'm also a fan of John Banville, a master of the well turned phrase, even though his style can be indigestably dense and a little dour. It doesn't surprise me that his favorite piece of the book is the menacing first encounter with Baxter - it's very like his own work in tone.
Unfortunately I think he's near enough the mark ,if a little cruel, in his review . The Tony Blair jibe is delicious. I cannot understand myself the hysterically enthusiastic reception for this work (a Da Vinci Code for middle-brow Brits). It is clunky and incredible. There is some merit in the idea of Perowne - an everyman hero removed from the high falutin' preoccupations of the chattering classes but nevertheless quietly doing breathtaking things. But he's a little too reasonable and his life is a little too perfect to make him come alive.
The book is worth a read though even if it's not destined to become a classic

Jameson Faly

The guy told me what was going to happen before I read it! Thanks a bunch Banville.

Jonathan Mallalieu

No surprise, given that McEwan's 'A Child In Time' was similarly banal and clunky. 'Atonement' started well, but fell apart in the second half of the match. Frankly, why the high expectations in the first place? McEwan proved himself as a short-distance runner with his stories, but that was three decades ago, and he has yet to produce a great novel. The signs are that, while he will continue to make vast pots of cash for his publishers, middle age soft-headedness has set in. The only thing that kept his work out of the toilet in the first place was that dark sensibility, evident in First Love Last Rites and The Cement Garden, but when that vanishes all we're left with is a suet pudding of bad Virginia Woolf. That Tony Blair comment points us in the direction: this kind of middle-class litchrychewer is as bland, all pervasive and mediocre as market democracy in the globalised economy.

Richard L. Pangburn

John Banville's review is very entertaining. But his real objection to the book seems to be that Perowne is a happy, well-adjusted man and that the book ends without his life blowing apart.

What Banville objects to is the formula of the fairy tale, and he erroneously sees that formula at work in the book. Sad academics have long beaten into their students the need for ambiguously negative endings, to differentiate themselves from the popular genre formulas with "happy endings."

But what Banville does--and indeed what Robert Stone and many other authors do as well--is operate by a different formula. They blow things up every time. Love never lasts in their books. They don't believe in well-adjusted people. They are predictable, shallow, and short-sightedly out of touch with reality.

I want to tell Mr. Banville that it is not at all unusal to find women who shower and take care of themselves and smell good.

Mr. Banville, it is also not at all unusual to find married couples in their forties still in love with each other and enjoying sex. Since you think otherwise, you have my sympathy, but it is you, not McEwan, who is out of touch with reality here.

Liam Lenihan

The commentators on John Banville's review of Saturday are mostly as wrong as McEwan's aesthetic is itself. Literature is summed up by the towering banalities of "relevance" or "engagement". In the words of another great novelist, Milan Kundera, from his novel Ignorance, art is an attempt to liberate us from the "tyranny of the emotions". A great critic like Roberto Calasso - see his excellent Literature and the Gods - knows that when the spark that animates art is enslaved by childish emotion and proffered only in service of sentiment it suffocates, smolders and is extinguished. John Banville, a truly great writer, has exposed one of the great modern myths of writing: that simplicity equals sincerity (which is nonsense) and that personal honesty equals artistic truth.

James Barry

Who is this Lenihan dude?! Who are you to criticise the readers man! Stop kissing John Banville's ass and accept it - literature lives in the real world. It is relevant. Literature has to engage and grapple with the world or it is nothing. McEwan's making an effort to deal with 9/11 and he did it in a sensitive way. Rock on relevant realism.

Liam Lenihan

Dear Mr. Barry. Question the poeple! What tosh. No intelligent person appeals to popularity for answers in relation to art. What do you think literary criticism is, an episode of Big Brother?! That's the poverty of popularism for you. Stick to text message ringtones that double as pop records and irrate phone-in shows my limited friend.

James Barry

Dear Mr Lenihan, I would direct YOU too John Carey's recent book, What Good Are the Arts? In it he rubbish the snobbish rhetoric of elitists like you.

Liam Lenihan

Anything can be art eh?! Well if everything is great, then nothing is Mr Barry.

George Gordon

Good point Mr. Lenihan. ALthough you might want to keep in mind that art is not the preserve of the elite, and that beauty can be found in what might seem the most ordinary and mundane of things.

Paul Epstein

Those who want to get further perspectives without actually reading the book might be interested to read the New Yorker short story at this URL: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/content/041220fi_fiction1

This story, also by McEwan, contains some of the themes and scenes of the novel, and was presumably a precursor to it.

Nacheez

I actually loved the book when I read it. Perhaps because it was my first by McEwan and I was quite thrilled by the discovery of a master of the language. I must say however that Banville made me re-think my estimation. I shall now proceed to read his stuff !
Wonder if its just me or does anyone else find points of similarity between the book and Michael Haneke's movie Cache ? They both deal with the disruption of the idyllic lives of successful men. Of course the movie is even more artless but I liked it immensely - perhaps being from India I applauded the sentiment. Also the controlled style of the movie seems close to McEwan's quiet mastery

Beth

I just got through the tedious squash scene, read this and realised it will get worse rather than better. Now I will just read if for the amusement. Thank you Mr Banville for explaining so eloquently the rage I am feeling as I read this obviously overrated book.

Virginia Kovel

I very much agree with Mr. Banville's review of the novel Saturday which I have read and thorougyly disliked.

Rufus Thomas

In reply to Richard L Pangborn, I love my wife dearly but have to say her breath smells in the morning and frankly McEwen's picture of married sex is as absurdly smug and unreal as the rest of his novel.

John Bourgeois

Coming to a bestselling novel some 2 years after its publication and after several respected friends' hectoring ("You haven't read Saturday? Oh, I wish I had that to look forward to!" ) I was predisposed to like it. Within the first few pages however, something far too simple about the marriage portrait disappointed me. I'm the same age as Henry and have been married for many years to a woman I too love and still desire. All the same, I do daydream about having, in Virginia Woolf's unforgettable phrase: "A little mustard with my meat". Henry, loving husband that he is, must have had his moments of yearning or he wouldn't be human. After this breezy read, I can only conclude that I'm not meant to identify with the character's humanity rather I'm expected to enjoy being entertained by a ripping good yarn ( see John Banville's review). The problem is I don't like ripping good yarns unless they ring with the truth of messy and irreducibly complex lives. That said, McEwan can write like an angel even if, at times, he's more smug cherub than insightful messenger.

B; Arquié

John Banville is definitely a great writer, I owe him a sincere admiration. I wrote my Master's degree paper on his Revolution Trilogy, which are really extraordinary books, in particular his Kepler. I am not surprised he truly hated Saturday because it does seem to totally lack the intellectual thrill that could be experienced in Banville's Dr Copernicus for example. Yet I think we must distinguish the relative mediocrity of the characters from what they seek to represent, which is in my opinion a form of criticism towards our self-satisfied bourgeois everyday life. I think that the big idea behind these rather dull and inconsistent characters (I admit they are) is a reflection on human nature and humanism : in a world were literary culture and humanities are progressively replaced by consumerism and technological babble, what can we still call "human"? If Darwin is mentionned, and if Perowne's thinking echoes a certain evolutionary psychology slant, it's precisely because what is at stake: what kind of human nature is this society trying to sell us?

B; Arquié

John Banville is definitely a great writer, I owe him a sincere admiration. I wrote my Master's degree paper on his Revolution Trilogy, which are really extraordinary books, in particular his Kepler. I am not surprised he truly hated Saturday because it does seem to totally lack the intellectual thrill that could be experienced in Banville's Dr Copernicus for example. Yet I think we must distinguish the relative mediocrity of the characters from what they seek to represent, which is in my opinion a form of criticism towards our self-satisfied bourgeois everyday life. I think that the big idea behind these rather dull and inconsistent characters (I admit they are) is a reflection on human nature and humanism : in a world were literary culture and humanities are progressively replaced by consumerism and technological babble, what can we still call "human"? If Darwin is mentionned, and if Perowne's thinking echoes a certain evolutionary psychology slant, it's precisely because what is at stake: what kind of human nature is this society trying to sell us?

Anthony

'Saturday' may err on the smug side but for me there's plenty of intelligence and insight and irony in the novel to ponder on and make it well worth the reading. Perowne the neural surgeon and his family were certainly no less interesting to me than the crumply art historians that appear in too many of Banville's books. Why should Banville think it incredulous that Perowne had never heard of the poet Arnold or had little appreciation of ninteenth century liturature? Surely most people would be in that boat, even brain surgeons. Neither did I think there was too much medical terminology in the novel. If Perowne is cast as a little too 'straight' so be it. There must be as many 'straight' people out there in real life as there are crumply art historians.

John Tangney

This review is a piece of utter crankiness on Banville's part. Saturday sets up a lot of tragic expectations which it defeats skillfully, and by not indulging in post-9/11 existential despair it displays a level of maturity that Banville is probably incapable of understanding, addicted as he is to philosophical pessimism. The tragedies that didn't happen in the course of the novel might indeed have happened on a different Saturday. It was refreshing to read a book that was willing to allow these fortunate people their happiness, without resentment, and that acknowledged its fragility at the same time. Banville has completely misread the book.

Josh Meggitt

A little late to this post, but such is my lasting distaste for 'Saturday', and my inability to find justly negative criticism of it, that I read Banville's insightful, totally accurate dismissal of with relish. I've always found McEwan unpleasant, but nothing came close to the awfulness of Saturday. Well done Banville, I'll seek out your novels, and if they're diametrically opposed to McEwan I should be in for a treat.

The Wiseone

Saturday is a weak book. It purports to be realistic in the extreme but the plot is ludicrously, stupidly unrealistic to say the least, with a silly little moral about art saving the day tacked on the end.
Oh poetry is useful after all, it wins the day against the baddies. Give us a break. Makes his whole ouvre suspect.
I can't see how it rates so well with so many.

Jacobean Lily

Banville and McEwan are scrambling around searching for the thing that might be defined as authenticity just as much as we are (or should be....). Why criticise either of them? They're both brilliant, insightful writers and readers and they both have a valid perspective to offer. Add your own, by all means - you may find its not so easy.

Ann H

I read Saturday a year or so after it was published, and I thought it was godawful, for most of the reasons given in Banville's review. All the reviews I had read of it were so adulatory that I assumed that I was somehow insensitive to its merits--it is reassuring to read Banville's review and find that mine was not the only negative reaction. Like Banville, I found Saturday arrogant, pompous and self-important. I must admit, however, that I had much the same reaction to the second half of Atonement, a view that has hardened the more I think about the novel (something I do as seldom as possible).

Bob Fitzconner

I guess Banville's real gripe is that McEwan chooses to pen a small-c conservative worldview - a modest man, his family, their lives, making the world afresh each day by being themselves. Had Banville gone into brain surgery it would probably have been to search for man's soul.

roscoe born

"It affords no pleasure to say these things," says Mr. Banville.

Really, John?

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