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This brings us to a point I’ve prepared to ask him about. The protagonist of ‘Saturday’ is a brain surgeon, who disdains literature. McEwan is of course, hugely well read - a man who, I’ve just heard, equates experiences with what he’s reading at the time. How easy was it to get into the head of a character who believes fiction is useless to the modern world? “I wanted a character I could distance myself from,” he says. “I wanted a non-literary hero. He is highly intelligent and reflective, but he’s not an intellectual. I wanted to challenge the notion that people who don’t read novels have no inner life, that they don’t have a fully formed morality and imagination. And, researching surgeons, I met people who were so busy they hardly had time to glance at a newspaper, or read a magazine article, yet were formidable guys and women.”

The last Ian McEwan book I read, ‘Atonement’, I picked up in a charity shop. This is generally my method of choosing the literature I read. I ask McEwan if he thinks it’s important, on the other hand, to keep up with what’s being written at the moment. To stay tuned to the literary zeitgeist. “I think that the reader’s only duty is to find pleasure in reading,” he says. “The serendipity of finding something you fancy in a second hand or charity shop is wonderful. You find things you would never find on Amazon. It gives you the chance of exploring the great writers. If you don’t like them you can just return to them fifteen years later. If you feel obliged to read what’s just come out it can seem like required reading on a course. And there’s nothing worse than people pretending to like a book because they think they should. That’s awful.”

You read it here first: McEwan is likely to read from his next novel,
‘On Chesil Beach’