‘Solar’ by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors. He is in a special category for me. His books take time to read because I want to savour, not devour. ‘Atonement’  and ‘On Chesil Beach’ were good and I especially appreciated ‘Saturday’.  ‘Solar’ is a bit different; still well written but not as eloquent. Even though Solar is fiction, it has a lot to say about how we view climate change as a planet. We do need to consider alternatives, especially after the incredible nuclear tragedy in Japan. One of the things I find hard to understand about Japan, is how they could build so many nuclear plants after Hiroshima? Wouldn’t they be the people most motivated to avoid this source of energy? Indeed, just today I noticed a report in the news about anti-nuclear protestors there. Perhaps there are no viable alternatives yet, but then it begs these questions: When we are as clever about other forms of technology, why do we continue to destroy the earth and are unable to devise cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy ? Why do we let politics hamper the quest, and why are we unwilling to alter our lifestyles enough to reduce the incredible energy demand? Climate change is complicated and evokes reactions ranging from strong emotions to complete apathy.

‘Solar’ is a brilliant comic novel about a selfish, short, fat, philandering climate change scientist named Michael Beard who doesn’t do much besides coasting on a Nobel prize he won years ago. Like our treatment of the planet, he tends to ignore his own health, postpones dealing with a melanoma, and is addictive and over consumptive. Will Beard’s scientific brilliance win out before his pathological self-destructiveness catches up? So with the species.

McEwan likes science and is knowledgeable about it. This is something that becomes evident in this book and in his novel ‘Saturday’ which is about a neurosurgeon. So if you don’t like science, some of it may seem boring. But hang in there because there also parts which are side-splittingly funny. Global warming is no laughing matter and the humour carries a dark side.  At the heart of the book are sober themes which we cannot ignore.

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