Monday, April 30, 2007

Saturday by Ian McEwan

Katie Roiphe in the Slate discusses the similarities between Mrs. Dalloway and Ian McEwan's Saturday. This is an old piece but I came across it only today, and it's so good that it deserves to be read again.

Roiphe spots the similarities in the styles of the two books and narrates them in spell-binding language:

On the domestic front, both Saturday and Mrs. Dalloway take up the particular blend of love and alienation and awe that parents feel toward their adult children. And in each, art and literature have what might be considered an unrealistic, magical presence: Poetry has an incantatory redemptive power that tames the madman in Saturday, just as lines of Shakespeare focus Clarissa's mind in Mrs. Dalloway. A homeless woman's nonsense song in Mrs. Dalloway has the same eternal, soul-lifting force as Perowne's son's jazz song in Saturday. (Though, of course, the idea that art can save us was less implausible and startling in 1925 than it is now.)

In the end, she questions why critics have failed to notice this similarity in reviews of Saturday. She blames it on sexism. I don't agree.

Given the many parallels, one wonders why so few critics have interested themselves in McEwan's connection to Virginia Woolf. It may be that there is a certain gentle sexism at work: Is it too hard to imagine that a male writer of McEwan's stature might be channeling Virginia Woolf? Is the leap from a neurosurgeon to a housewife too distant for critics and readers to conceive? Does the separation we still have in our minds between a woman's novel, which is "domestic," and a man's novel, which contains wars and politics, still so pronounced that we can't clearly see the amazing, sexless feat of weaving the two together?

In today's post-modernist times, with all sorts of review attention coming the way of books--from Focauldian to queer theory-- it is unfair to claim that different angles have not been explored due to biases. Perhaps it just did not strike many reviewers considering the differences in times and settings.

Even so, I remember having read a piece or two which spoke of the similarity, at least to the extent that both novels straddle a day in the lives of the protagonists. Even the cover shown above can pass for Mrs. Dalloway (except it's a male figure) reminiscing in her room in the middle of the party (when she spots a neighbour in the room opposite).

No comments: