Solar by Ian McEwan

Well written black comedy mirrors our reaction to climate change

Solar by Ian McEwanMichael Beard isĀ  a physicist whose best work is all behind him. He is coasting after peaking early with his Nobel Prize for the Beard-Einstein Conflation. Jumping on the global warming bandwagon, he is working on a doomed rooftop wind turbine while his weight balloons and his wife plays the beast with two backs with their builder. A true Tom Sharpe moment allows Beard to steal the technology for a form of artificial photosynthesis and brazenly present it as his own. He sets off in search of fame and fulfillment once more but the forces of chaos inexorably close in on him, and in the end in spite of the laugh out loud slapstick moments and the clever plotlines this turns out to be a very moral tale.

This is a very clever black comedy that on one level can be read as an extended metaphor for the world’s reaction to and treatment of global warming. Beard’s insatiable appetite, his inability to stop consuming even when he knows it is bad for him, his wilful refusal to do the right thing in his private life all parallel our treatment of the planet.

Beard’s refusal to do anything about his burgeoning weight or the developing melanoma on his hand culminates in the realisation that ” He did not have it in him to eat and drink less . . . . He could not command his body to do it, he had no will for it. He would rather die than take up jogging or prance to funky music in a church hall with other tracksuited deadbeats.”

Brilliantly written, this is a wonderful read for all McEwan fans or newcomers to his work. The climate change issues are not intrusive but form a useful skeleton to hang the all-too-corpulent flesh of the frequently hilarious plot on.

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