Friday, 4 November 2011

Egocentricity & Ectoplasm

Ian McEwan's Saturday is a provocative novel about a single day in the life of an affluent neurosurgeon, Henry, who lives & works in central London. From early morning, the reader becomes an intimate witness to Henry's river of thoughts, fears and remembrances as well as the mundane activities of a typical weekend but a car accident at the fringes of an Iraq War march has consequences for his whole family. It's testament to McEwan's skills that the main character and side players survive this cauldron of microscopic attention unscathed and the everyday detail never seems burdensome in fact McEwan's clear, crisp prose lends a necessary briskness to the narrative. This well written, close study is an excellent read, but for me at least, a little disappointing; given the focus on one protagonist's interior life and character it was a pity I didn't really like Henry very much, he's diffident, pompous and shallow, one of those tedious, ossified professionals that tend to live half-lives despite their privileges. Nevertheless McEwan continues to impress.

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel concerns a rotund psychic working the circuit while coping with a foul, truculent, uncouth spirit guide who is unwilling to reveal the truth about his mistress's mysterious, tragic past. After hiring an assistant business booms but the effort to cash in with a biographical book brings increasingly dark memories to the surface. There's plenty of funny swipes at the psychic biz with some great oddbod characters, hucksters and credulous, desperate punters (most familiar from my own days as a book hawker/kook enabler) and there's plenty of brilliant dialogue but the biting cynicism slowly reveals a pitch black plot riven with delusion, deception, abuse, murder and prostitution all rearing very ugly heads along the way. It's very well written, with a nicely drawn afterworld but it's maybe a little flabby in the midsection and I'd have preferred a firmer resolution after all that grim but still it's definitely worth a look.

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