Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Solar Ian McEwan



Ian McEwan is one of a handful of novelists that I read everything by. His stuff ranges from the some of my favourite books , Comfort of Strangers, Atonement, to some that whilst enjoyable slightly disappoint, A Child in Time, Amsterdam (for which he strangely won the Booker prize).

Solar is strange one, I started off thinking it was going to be a struggle and and finished with me wanting it to keep going


Of his previous novels , the one Solar is the closest relation to is Saturday, in that the struggles of one man are tied up in wider events and paint a bigger picture about wider society. The difference is that Solar is firmly a satire, built around a number of big set pieces (with a lot more comedy than in anything else McEwan has written), some of which work better than others. Each set piece builds and builds a fatal combination of the fallacy of human ambition when it is coupled with a gigantic self delusion and inflated self importance. Eventually, of the course, the whole thing tumbles down like and over ambitions house of cards. This personal cocktail is reflected in the wider context of the debate on global warming


The unfortunate soul in question is Nobel prize winner and serial adulterer Michael Beard who, when we met him, is wrestling with a failing marriage (his 5th), a widening girth and a role in heading up the Uks search for alternative power sources which he feels is doomed to fail.

He is not a villain or a particularly bad man just someone whose self interest and self deception make him not very likable. As the book takes Beard from east Anglia to the Artic Circle and on to Mexico, each decision he makes creates a short term gain but you know in the end there will be a cost. a theme reflected in the passages giving the scientific background to the potential solutions to a future energy crisis. Reading reviews on other sites, it does seem as if this is the ultimate marmite book (both Amazon and Waterstones have similar number of 5 star and 1 star reviews) with some of the poorer reviews citing "too much science", However for me these passages really work as apart for being interesting in themselves they help to give depth to Beard's academic world and link Beard's journey to one the whole race is on.


As with Saturday McEwan gets more authenticity with the voice of the middle class intellectual than he does their working class nemesis ,when the dialogue seems at times a bit forced and old school play for today.


This isn't an eco heavy end of days novel (climate change is the back drop), it is firmly a satire and like all satires sometimes the humour can be bit over egged, however I had a morbid fascination seeing if Beard's Teflon qualities would see him avoid the car crash that was surely heading his way

At the end of the day Beard simply can't control his desires , for sex , for food , for money , for fame. As Beard's human failings catch-up with him and he sits waiting his own personal catastrophe, you are left with the sinking realisation that these same human failings will mean we are unlikely to halt the bigger catastrophe that climate change will bring.

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