Wednesday, March 31, 2010

book review - Solar - Ian McEwan

"Beard was not wholly sceptical about climate change. It was one in a list of issues, of looming sorrows, that comprised the background to the news, and he read about it, vaguely deplored it and expected governments to meet and take action."

This book, with its tactile black cover, arrives as the first major book of the year in terms of the hype and expectation that one of our great writers is serving up his latest offering.

Bearing in mind McEwan's last book was the slim On Chesil Beach, which I felt was 80% about one moment and then had an ending that faded and ran too fast, it was going to be interesting to see what Solar was all about. At 283 pages you expected a start, middle and ending and they were delivered. Split into three parts the years go by and the attitude towards global warming becomes more cynical and opportunistic.

At the centre of what is often a farce is the Nobel prize winning physicist Michael Beard who is introduced as his fifth marriage starts to fall apart. Driven by his passions for sex, booze and crisps Beard lurches through the collapse of his marriage, the death of a colleague and the framing of his wife's former lover with all the lights showing green. In between he does his climate change credentials the world of good by going out to be threatened by polar bears in the artic.

But sensing an opportunity to make some money out of solar power Beard steals his dead colleagues ideas and launches himself into a career as a climate change believer. It is not that he doesn't believe but he is selfishly looking for a role for himself to make something out of it. Mixed in with his preaching about climate change is a need for self satisfaction that is physically shown in his determination to chase skirt and eat and drink himself to death despite doctor's warnings.

Most of the coverage and interviews I've seen with McEwan have focused on the way he uses humour to almost spring a surprise on the reader about the importance of climate change. If there is a personal takeaway from this book it is the way that despite being clearly a clever man Beard spans the nine years of the story getting fatter, more unhealthy and into deeper trouble in his personal relationships. If you want to change, whether that be yourself or the planet, you need to start now. The slide of Beard towards death is a powerful reminder for us all.


Roland Millward said...

Thanks for the review.

Simon Quicke said...

thanks for the comment