I just finished reading Ian McEwan's recent novel, Saturday. McEwan is one of my favorite writers, but that opinion is founded on admittedly little. Before this, I'd only read Enduring Love, which was good enough to seal his place on my future reading list, and Amsterdam, which was, to be kind, very weak. I haven't even gotten yet to the novel considered by many to be his best: Atonement.
But Saturday, I'm happy to report, is terrific. Better, if anything, than Enduring Love. He is better than anyone else I've read at detailing the inner workings of the mind, of slowing down the blur of mixed-up thoughts that rush by at machine-like speed to a more human, understandable pace. In so doing, he achieves that near-impossible feat of squeezing thoughts into syntax and grammar without harming or altering them in the process. (An unfortunate byproduct of this is that when time resumes its speed and the action in the plot moves along, it does so clumsily. He's clearly more at home with writing from the inside, and I think the best McEwan novel possible would perhaps take the space of only minutes or seconds and contain no plot whatsoever.)
So why am I writing about it? I read plenty of books that I like or dislike, and to mention them all here would be as dreary for me as for you.
Because while art is littered with works shining lights into every nook of the past and trying desperately to imagine every possibility of the future, there are precious few books — or artworks of any medium — that illuminate the present. Shock Doctrine, which I wrote about here some months ago, was one, but as the old saying goes, if you want the truth, read fiction.
Saturday is, at its very best, an elaborate and detailed snapshot of what life in this time is like, what life in London is like, and how the conflicting forces of technology and humanity play out — in one's mind and in society. There are passages that feel like he's written my thoughts with greater clarity than I can think them, and I'm very grateful that he has.