DATE PUBLISHED: 2010
DATE READ: May 2010 (audiobook)
NOTES: For this novel about climate change McEwan has opted for a darkly comic format. Nobel prize-winner Michael Beard works in the field of artificial photosynthesis. The aim is to provide the world with a cheap and clean source of fuel – but perhaps the main aim is to make the egotistical Beard rich and famous. Beard is McEwan’s most dislikeable protagonist so far – greedy, sexually predatory, amoral and self-centred.
There are numerous comical set pieces – such as the Arctic trip when Beard tries to answer a call of nature out of doors and the chaotic boot store in the ship in which Beard fails again and again to find his correct clothing. Then there are some very misjudged comments about the abilities of women in science that land our hero in a massive media storm. At one point on a train a young man sitting opposite him begins to take crisps out of Beard’s packet. Beard becomes quietly infuriated and begins to gobble them up himself before the interloper takes them all. But this is an old story, I thought to myself, although I remember it being a Kit Kat bar. But, of course, Ian McEwan is ahead of us and later introduces a University professor who deconstructs this urban myth.
McEwan is obviously serious about how we are causing damage to the environment. However a serious novel about climate change would probably be so depressing and worthy it would alienate many people. Solar makes us laugh – but also makes us think.