I liked Ian McEwan's Saturday partly because of its focus on the mind-body relation. The main character, Dr. Perowne, is a materialist -- there's nothing more to a mind than a brain.
Perowne regards three persons through this reductionist lens:
1. Perowne's alcoholic father-in-law, a complicated poet whose foibles grow predictably from the effects of alcohol on the brain;
2. Perowne's mother, who suffers from dementia; the sections about her are the most profound in the book, focusing on the pathos and tragic affront when a good and caring person is deleted by brute, neural wiring malfunctions; and
3. Baxter, the intelligent thug; the issue here is the conflict between, on the one hand, our natural moral indignation at the heinous crimes of a free person and, on the other hand, the picture of the criminal as an unfree victim of his own gnarled neural wiring. (Shades here of philosopher Wifrid Sellars' contrast between the Manifest Image [our common, everyday sense of ourselves and others as free and responsible persons] and the Scientific Image [in which those persons dissolve into amoral atom-swarms].)
Here's an ambiguous quotation in connection with that last point:
“Who could ever reckon up the damage done to love and friendship and all hopes of happiness by a surfeit or depletion of this or that neurotransmitter? And who will ever find a morality, an ethics down among the enzymes and amino acids when the general taste is for looking in the other direction?”
I've earlier quoted a nice philosophy-of-mind passage from McEwan's Atonement. Here's a phil-of-mind quotation from Saturday, this time on philosopher Jerry Fodor's notion of 'Mentalese', an innate representational medium with syntactic structure in which the mind does its thinking or representing (I believe Fodor developed the idea under Chomsky's influence):
“This is the pre-verbal language that linguists call Mentalese. Hardly a language, more a matrix of shifting patterns, consolidating and compressing meaning in fractions of a second, and blending it inseparably with its distinctive emotional hue. … So that when a flash of red streaks in across his left peripheral vision … it already has the quality of an idea … unexpected and dangerous, but entirely his, and not of the world beyond himself.”
The main weakness of the novel is its plot, which seems implausible and jury-rigged in places, as if McEwan had notebooks full of good passages and riffs that he was itching to publish and just threw together any old narrative in which to embed them. The book is marred also by some smug political musings that are espoused by Dr. Perowne and that resemble some of McEwan's own political views. (I suspect that a lot of the recent, blogosphere animus against McEwan stems from disapproval of his politics. But who knows?)
Regardless, while it isn't as good as Atonement, there's some great writing in Saturday.
Here are some interesting reviews of Saturday, one of them by the late Richard Rorty.