Saturday, January 15, 2005

Extracted from involvement: Ian McEwan's Saturday

I began reading this Guardian piece thinking it was a review of Ian McEwan's new novel Saturday about a man caught up in the February 15th 2003 march against the coming invasion and occupation of Iraq. The opening lines didn't disabuse me. I thought it was summary of a scene in the novel. But by the second sentence of the third paragraph, I had realised something was wrong. Up to this point, there had not been a comment from the reviewer.

The first sentence of the third paragraph is: Ever since he treated an Iraqi Professor of Ancient History for a cerebral aneurysm, saw his torture scars and listened to his stories, Perowne has had ambivalent or confused and shifting ideas about this coming invasion.

At this point, I still thought it was a review. After all, it does read like a précis. From the second sentence of the third paragraph, however, it begins the story of the Iraqi professor. It was here that I stopped.

It was so unconvincing and yet there was no comment from the reviewer about 'caricature' and the like. Hasn't "Henry Perowne" (and what an unconvincing name that is!) ever treated another torture victim from somewhere less newsworthy? This is a prime example of journalism by other means. The narrative does not include itself in its meticulous study.

My mistake in reading it as review was an unwittingly perceptive one. There is no involvement but a supercilious schematic based on a very limited perspective that is also unaware of its limits. However, this is the understanding of what fiction is if one reads reviews in newspapers like The Guardian. Here we have a narrative of complete control where the only doubt is the contemptible liberal umming-and-arring of a character designed to justify the inexcusable open-mindedness to Blair's criminal war by writers like Ian McEwan and other journalists.

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