I read Ian McEwan's Saturday and remember a part where the daughter, who was into poetry, tried to get her father, a neurosurgeon, to read more books. She recommended South American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The father answered something like:

No more magical realism, please. Reality ought to offer plenty of material for a novel.

I cannot find this quote so maybe I got the words wrong or it's from a different book. Does it ring a bell?


Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary […] had the virtue, at least, of representing a recognisable physical reality, which could not be said for the so-called magical realists she [Daisy] opted to study in her final year. What were these authors of reputation doing—grown men and women of the twentieth century—granting supernatural powers to their characters? He [Henry] never made it all the way through a single one of these irksome confections. And written for adults, not children. In more than one, heroes and heroines were born with1 or sprouted wings2—a symbol, in Daisy’s term, of their liminality; naturally, learning to fly became a metaphor for bold aspiration. Others were granted a magical sense of smell,3 or tumbled out of high-flying aircraft.4 One visionary saw through a pub window his parents as they had been some weeks after his conception, discussing the possibility of aborting him.5 […]

“No more magic midget drummers,”6 he pleaded with her by post, after setting out his tirade. “Please, no more ghosts, angels, satans or metamorphoses. When anything can happen, nothing much matters. It’s all kitsch to me.”

Ian McEwan (2005). Saturday, chapter 2. London: Jonathan Cape.

My best guess as to the works referred to:

  1. Gabriel García Márquez (1965), ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’.
  2. Angela Carter (1984), Nights at the Circus.
  3. Patrick Süskind (1985), Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.
  4. Salman Rushdie (1988), The Satanic Verses.
  5. Ian McEwan (1987), The Child in Time.
  6. Günter Grass (1959), The Tin Drum.

Characters having or sprouting wings is a common trope and McEwan might have had different works in mind, for example Mr Pye (1953) by Mervyn Peake, or Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith (2000) by Gina B. Nahai.

The inclusion of one the author’s own novels in this list is a signpost as to how seriously the reader is intended to take Henry’s tirade.

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