Thursday, April 07, 2011

'Solar' by Ian McEwan

7 April 2011

Reading Ian McEwan’s latest novel ‘Solar’, I found I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t a work by David Lodge. McEwan seems to have parked himself squarely in Lodge territory with a comic novel about a frustrated, aging male academic. The theme here is climate change and the potential of solar power to solve our enegergy crisis and the book was inspired by a trip to the Arctic that McEwan made as part of a group of artists – a version of which provides a significant episode in the first part of the novel. ‘Solar’ is clever and well-constructed but not half as funny as David Lodge would have made it. Having created an unlikeable protagonist – the Nobel prize-winning scientist Michael Beard, through whose eyes we see events unfold – the challenge of the comic novel is surely to make us, against our better judgement, come to sympathise with him. I didn’t feel McEwan entirely achieved this – though I think we are supposed to see Beard’s bloated, dysfunctional body and his consistent refusal to seize any of the opportunities for redemption which present themselves to him, as an analogy for the failing health of the planet. Having said all that, I enjoyed the way McEwan pulled together all the threads of his somewhat non-linear narrative towards its inevitable climax.



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