Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ian McEwan's Solar

I devour any new novel by Ian McEwan, so I couldn't wait to read the much anticipated Solar. Much anticipated because apparently it was 'a sort of comic treatment of climate change', and how could McEwan do this and pull it off? Comedy? After the ultra earnest On Chesil Beach? You have to be kidding!

Well, pull it off he does. Solar is superb. It's not a comedy - there are simply some very funny elements. And it's not about climate change - that is simply the intellectual setting, if you like.

This book is really an absorbing exploration of a very contemporary, post-modern obsession: fact v fiction; truth v narrative; the construction of an appealing, acceptable face to the world.

On the surface it's a simple story. Professor Michael Beard, Noble prize-winning physicist, spirals into total dissolution - physical, moral, social, intellectual. It's a long, slow suicide. But McEwan makes him entirely sympathetic. The man's passions, appetites and lusts can't hide a deep insecurity within, a longing for genuineness and integrity that constantly elude him.

There are some laugh out loud moments in the book that are more Ben Elton than Ian McEwan, but I predict Solar will be another very well-received novel for this eminently readable author. In some ways it out-McEwans McEwan. This master of the quotidian round, at home or at work - shattered as it always is by an event that fractures - outdoes himself here, propelling the story to its inevitable conclusion. Whether it has the sort of 'literary' merit always associated with this Booker prize-winning author, that will be endlessly debated.

In my view, Michael Beard is a wonderful creation, and he deserves to live forever!

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