Ian McEwan’s ‘Solar’: a quick review

Solar by Ian McEwanIt’s not often I shell out £18.99 on a brand new hardback. I much prefer browsing through the second-hand book stores near my flat. It saves trees, saves money, and the lady at the cat sanctuary bookshop will even put specific books to one side and call you to let you know they’ve come in.

But a novel on global warming, by one of my all-time favourite authors, was too exciting to wait for in softback.

I was expecting Solar to tackle some of the political and moral questions surrounding climate change but in fact, this plays only a small part in the book. The main character, a Nobel-winning physicist named Michael Beard, happens upon a way to generate power by artificial photosynthesis of the sun’s energy.

McEwan has really done his homework on the science front – the process he describes sounds very convincing (I take it there’s no way this could really work?!).  But Beard actually doesn’t care about saving the planet, and the book focuses much more on the mishaps of his love-life and his stagnant career.

Beard is repulsive – a greedy, selfish slob who gets fatter and fatter throughout the book. He is the epitome of the consumptive lifestyle that has led to the world facing a climate crisis in the first place.

I’m not sure what it says about me as a reader, but with every new scene I hoped that he’d have lost weight and become more attractive, but he only consumes more and more. In descriptions of his childhood I tried unsuccessfully to find explanation of how he’d turned out to be the way he is.

I hoped that becoming a father might make him genuinely care about safeguarding the world in which his daughter will grow up, but it doesn’t. And I found it unbelievable that so many women should fall in love with such a grotesque man.

But despite detesting Beard, I could still appreciate McEwan’s  characterisation, and some of the book’s comic moments are enjoyable. Solar wasn’t as ‘un-put downable’ for me as other McEwan novels but it’s definitely worth a read (though I wish I hadn’t spent £18.99 on it). I just wish the photovoltaic theory McEwan has devised was for real!

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