After letting it sit on my shelf for years, I recently dusted off and read Saturday by Ian McEwan. This was my first time reading any of McEwan's work, and he's definitely a writer I will return to. Saturday follows one man, over through the course of a day, in a post 9/11 London. McEwan's ability to develop a character is amazing. Henry Perowne is a successful neurosurgeon with a wife and two grown children. His day begins as he witnesses a plan catch fire in the air through his bedroom window, and goes from there. Through the course of the novel you learn of Perowne's intense love for and closeness with his children, without ever having to step away from the overall story. McEwan is even able to make his relationships with secondary characters (i.e. his father-in-law and the stranger) crystal clear without ever veering off course.
The plot here was secondary to the character himself and the environment and backdrop. It's difficult to find a novel in the post 9/11 genre that's plot has very little to do with 9/11 or terrorism. McEwan does that. The events are used to further develop Perowne and his view of the world without interrupting the trip McEwan is taking you on through his day.
Much of the narrative consists of Perowne contrasting his privileged life with the lives and circumstances of others. It's almost as if he cannot reconcile his good fortune with the terror, protests, and upheaval that surround him. A sudden and unexpected event throws him, and his family, into this world quickly and unexpectedly. Throughout the day, every step has a consequence effecting the eventual outcome of Perowne's plans. Every move brings him closer to experiencing the emotions that he spends the majority of the day trying to understand in others.
For me, much of this novel was about self-awareness. Perowne is a man who has worked hard for everything he has. He is and should be happy with his life, but he is not content dwelling in this happiness and never seeking understanding. Instead, he is often looking inward, trying to explain his happiness. Unlike many characters whose creators attempt to explain their characters joy out of guilt or insecurity, Perowne is confident in his happiness, and is only seeking to better himself by understanding how he and it fit into the world.
I have yet to determine a rating system for my reviews, but Saturday is a must read for anyone who enjoys learning about the characters themselves as much as (or more than) the plot.