Sunday, 25 July 2010

Thoughts on Solar from the northern sun-seeker

Here are some thoughts on Solar by Ian McEwan. Have a good discussion...wish I was there ...or better still you were ate Agnes Water listening to the waves with me...
McEwan has made a comical farce, supposedly resting on the most serious challenge of our generation: climate change. The two forces in the book sit uneasily with one another. His protagonist: Beard, a flabby middle aged (well late 50’s) scientist, seems to exhibit many sins of the generation: he is a glutton, selfish, a philanderer, a thief and a liar.... probably some others. He is completely unlikeable, although a source of some comedy, as for example he pretends to have a woman in his room to make his wife jealous. And he seems completely incapable of redemption, for example as offered by the ponytailed scientist tom Aldous. He simply steals his idea, and tries to profit from it.
His relationship with x, and his unwanted daughter may offer him redemption, as they seem to believe the best of him. However the farce comes tumbling to an end... I kept thinking heart attack, he must have a heart attack soon, as McEwan delights in describing one ghastly fast food overdose after another...
So it seems we are not to take it seriously, Beard is a caricature, hard to identify with (although he is shown as quite pitiful to us) and it surprised me to hear his public address which actually sounded quite reasonable....
So why did McEwan write the book? Why create such an unlikeable character, and such a farcical series of accidents, and human frailty...
I wondered if Beard was his attempt at Everyman....the 20th Century human representing our foibles and weaknesses...particularly in an era when we need to rise above our petty squabbles to do something about Climate Change... He is intelligent, has the knowledge to solve the problem, but gets immersed in his own petty problems, ego, and base drives, and if we did not laugh at him, we would certainly weep at such a wasted life....
I think McEwan must have decided that a serious tome on Climate Change would not be appealing, so he has gone to the other extreme and kept the tone very satiricial and farcical. The book was readable and amusing: the scenes of him freezing his penis off on the Snowmobile ride were funny in an excruciating Basil Fawlty like way - in his ineptitude and inability to admit to his problems, and to worry about having taken his penis off...probably would have been better for all concerned if he had! I found myself wondering aghast at what ridiculous mess he would get into next... and when he would get discovered.
I agree with the review in the Guardian by Christopher Taylor who says that some elements of the comedy do not come off as well as they might in McEwan’s hands:
Lightness, however, comes less easily to McEwan, whose style depends on deliberateness and a certain ponderousness. The ominous lining up of causes and effects and the patient tweaking of narrative tension don't always mesh well with the aimed-for quickness and brio. Some of the humour is quite broad: there's a rather clunking motif concerning polar bears, and Beard gets involved with a stereotypical Southern waitress who's called, in the way of trailer-trash types, Darlene. He emerges as a figure of some comic dynamism, but the pages on his childhood and youth, though brilliantly done, articulate poorly with the knockabout parts of the plot.(Christopher Taylor, The Guardian, 13 March 2010)
On most levels I found the book unsatisfying, compared to Enduring Love, Saturday or On Chesil Berach. The humour and unlikeable main character distanced me emotionally from the book. McEwan says it was about human nature, rather than climate change, and getting us to look at the barriers in our nature to living differently and thus reducing the impact of climate change. The plot felt contrived, and I thought he spent a lot of time with Beard dealing with his infidelities. It would have been good to develop the Aldous character a little more, as he was the alternative good scientist to Beard the cynical scientific figure.
In the finale, it looked as though he might finally get his just desserts... although I would have liked to see him working in a menial way on some alternative energy scheme that might have just had a glimmer of hope, but that’s me...

1 comment:

  1. Great comments Kate, and a few of us agree with you at the meeting. A shame you weren't there. I did enjoy the book - there were a lot of funny and sly things in it, but I agree that it didn't quite hit the mark and I think it probably does have to do with the tone issue.

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