This is a bit of a departure in style for the Man Booker prize winner Ian McEwan and while his lightness of touch and wry humour may put some of his traditional readers off, this new approach should endear him to a whole new readership. That is not to say that McEwan is dumbing down. Far from it. Solar is as elegantly written, insightful and as engrossing as his earlier books.
Aging, ailing, failing Nobel physicist Michael Beard is on a downward trajectory. His professional life is a juggle of shoring up funding, elbowing his way onto consultative committees and advisory boards, while younger doctoral scientists compete to earn attention for their own pet projects. Meanwhile, his tendency for serial monogamy topped up with an extravagance of extra marital affairs is becoming harder and harder to sustain.
McEwan's portrait of a delusional, self-important man set against the politics of climate change is both subtle and masterful. While there is good balance between the interior dialogue and some pretty surprising action, the reader has a continued and growing sense throughout it is all going to end in tears. This comedy of manners marvellously portrays the cynicism of the world of academia and politics, all the time keeping the focus on the misanthropic Beard and his obsessions with women, food and wine.
I couldn't keep the smile off my face while reading this one.
Michael Beard is a Nobel prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions and half-heartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. A compulsive womaniser, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. But this time it is different: she is having the affair, and he is still in love with her.
When Beard's professional and personal worlds collide in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and save the world from environmental disaster.
Ranging from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of New Mexico, SOLAR is a serious and darkly satirical novel, showing human frailty struggling with the most pressing and complex problem of our time. A story of one man's greed and self-deception, it is a profound and stylish new work from one of the world's great writers.