Author: Ian McEwan
What I think So Far: After being mightily impressed by Enduring Love, I was eager to explore more of McEwan’s work. Solar focuses on Michael Beard, a self-deprecating Nobel prize-winning physicist and compulsive womaniser, whose best work is behind him. Beard is the ultimate consumer; his fifth marriage is floundering following a stream of affairs, and he becomes morbidly obese over the nine years that the novel spans. Solar follows Beard as he half-heatedly attempts to find a solution to the ever relevant issue of global warming.
Would I recommend? Absolutely – both for its comedic value and the incredibly important message it conveys. Beard is a metaphor for every obstacle there is to solving global warming: over-consumption, greed and self-interest. Only half believing what he preaches in order to attract funding, Beard’s main aim is to prove that he is still the physicist he once was, appropriating the work of a colleague in the process. While global warming is an issue that the vast majority of the population turn a blind eye to, let alone read about, Beard’s self-deprecating humour balances out the scientific jargon, lightening the novel despite its bleak subject matter. However, by the final third of the book, this humour makes way for a more darkly satirical tone. In the deserts of New Mexico, Beard’s over-consumption of both women and food, coupled with his desire to be the face of renewable energy, catch up to him in a satisfying yet ultimately harrowing way. Solar ends on a dark note and readers are left with a haunting view of humankind and the fate of the planet.
Undoubtedly, Solar is a technical masterpiece. McEwan manages to seamlessly tie together the disparate themes of marriage, death, global warming, and even humour in less than 300 pages. However, by the final third of the book, Beard’s increasingly dislikeable character was seeping some enjoyment from the read. Nevertheless, McEwan’s goal was to educate rather than to entertain – and for the most part, he did both. This is a truly thought-provoking, satirical novel about the selfishness of humankind, and our unwillingness to change when it matters most.
Words by Rose Wolfe-Emery