British author Ian McEwan is said to favour working with stark opposites – he cast science against art, pits the greedy self-satisfying bums with the heroes of the world and sets technology against nature – and it shows in this latest work.
The highly descriptive story revolves around protagonist Michael Beard, his jaunty yet lamenting thoughts and his unimpressed views of the world.
Beard is a hero in physics, a champion for green energy and he is ready to save the world from self-destruction. His work in his youth simplified Einstein’s revolutionary 1905 paper, won him a Nobel Prize and paved the way for green discoveries and gold-backed research.
Ironically (or not), it is this very brains and the Nobel Prize that led to his continuing self-satisfying and unmotivated lifestyle. Beard rakes through food and women aplenty, living very much for the moment and basking in the past glories of his youth’s research – always sure that the moment will come when he will naturally shed this lifestyle for “innocent Eden”. It’s just around the next corner, he tells himself – even as he ages, grows fatter, carrying “the equivalent of a combat infantryman’s full pack”.
McEwan successfully draws parallels between Beard, and the world and its people. It almost appears as if McEwan is mocking the world – like Beard, we bask in our discovery of coal and oil, unmotivated to move forward; we meet for talks that have no effects, just like Beard did in the Artic summit; and like Beard, the world is getting sicker, fatter and non-committed.
Instead of being insulted though, I tutted at Beard’s lifestyle and found it hard to sympathize with this unlikeable main character (‘protagonist’ seems unfitting). Even so, I lament his misfortune.
The most enjoyable read of the book spanning 9 years of Beard’s life – which makes me wonder why McEwan puts us through it at all – is Part 2, where Beard met his match. A recognized figure in Physics, he dates a common woman working hard on her business; he’s a non-committed mess living in the past, she’s a warm, loving woman hoping for a child. Their fight over her pregnancy flits between her obvious excitement and his despair, as he struggles to get back the familiar warmth of food, sex and sleep before fleeing (once again).
At first glance, Solar may appear dreary from the viewpoint of a self-satisfying fat man. Like in Atonement though, McEwan’s brilliant use of a single incident that will eventually shape Beard’s years is just that – brilliant.Related Links: Ian McEwan's Official Website, Solar Wiki, Ian McEwan's interview on Powell