Posted by: Ted Balcom
How often have you come across a book that offers too much to discuss in an hour or an hour and a half (whatever the length of your discussion session)? A book that completely overflows with interesting characters, incidents, and plot twists, as well as brilliant philosophical observations, thought-provoking insights, and just plain great writing? Such a book is Saturday, by Ian McEwan, the acclaimed author of Atonement, and it is the book that my group discussed last week (or at least we discussed part of it!).
I’m not complaining. Saturday is a wonderful novel, and it provided the basis for a very stimulating discussion. The difficulty lay in the fact that we couldn’t cover all of it, and as the leader, I had to decide what we wouldn’t focus on, simply because of the time constraints.
If you’ve read any of McEwan’s books, you know that he is a superb writer. People always comment on how well he handles language, how beautifully he puts words together. Beyond that, he tells a compelling story, and a story with a purpose — to make the reader think about life and how it is lived, and often to think about the act of writing and its value to civilization.
For instance, in Saturday, he is telling us about one day in a man’s life — but the account seems to stand for his entire life, and our lives, as well. McEwan is talking about how we live now, in the wake of 9/11, how seriously we have been changed and what this means. His protagonist is a neurosurgeon living in London, a man with a profession he embraces passionately, with a wife and family he adores, with good friends and other interests, and a comfortable home. How quickly everything can change, based on a careless accident and an encounter with a disturbed ruffian. But this is just what occurs on the surface. McEwan also explores the shadows of war and global unrest, fear of ageing and the approach of death, and the power of poetry to affect men’s emotions, and in some ways, to alter lives.
Once you start talking about Saturday, you won’t want to stop. In fact, I’ve had book group members come up to me days later and start out, “About that book, I’ve been thinking…”
Yes, too much to talk about in just one session. But perhaps that’s the best kind of book for a really great discussion.