Saturday, 31 July 2010

Solar, by Ian McEwan

Five Minervans met this week to discuss Ian McEwan's Solar. We missed those tripping in other parts of Australia (singing in the Red Centre for one, and sunseeking in Queensland for another) and those in their sickbeds. We wish you - you know who you are - a speedy recovery!
Used by permission of the Random House Group

A quick plot summary: Solar tells the story of aging Nobel Laureate physicist, Michael Beard, who at the beginning of the novel is overweight, at the end of his fifth marriage, and resting on his laurels rather than doing any useful science. As usually happens in McEwan, an event occurs which serves to alter the course of people's lives - in this case, Michael Beard's in particular. As it happens, he's not above a bit of dishonesty here and there to ensure things work out to his advantage. How that happens and how it falls out makes up the rest of the book. All this occurs within the world of climate change, hence the title.

The general consensus was that we all enjoyed the book, but some enjoyed it more than others! The two who loved it greatly enjoyed the humour and felt that McEwan's ability to write about anything shone through. The others of us agreed more with Kate's blog post on the book. We felt it was readable but that it missed the mark in one way or another. The member who phoned in a late apology was in this camp too - she felt that it was a good story but that it got lost in the technical details.

We all though did enjoy some of the humour, particularly the episode where Beard goes to the arctic with a bunch of artists (he is the only scientist) to see climate change first hand. Chaos and disorganisation, not to mention a little hypocrisy (as they rush about the ice in their gas-fired skidoos), abound and we are left wondering whether the climate change community is capable of coordinating anything that would be positive for the environment.

Some of us found the constant description of Beard's eating, drinking and womanising a little repetitive and tedious though agreed that he represents a good example of "the unexamined life". That said,  we also felt that Beard had his better moments, such as his ability to tell a story against himself (eg the stolen potato chips story).

We talked a little about the book's exploration of issues like logic and reason versus imagination, and also about McEwan's focus on middle-aged men. One of the members who really liked the book said this aspect of his recent books have put her off, and that it was the humour in this one which got her attention. Usually, she said, she prefers to read about middle-aged women. I suspect that's true for a lot of us.

Finally, we briefly discussed the last line and what it meant - but to discuss that here would be a bit of a spoiler if you haven't read it. We were in general agreement though that it was effectively open-ended: a couple of interpretations are possible but all point to roughly the same thing.

I don't think I've fully captured the discussion, so please add a comment if you'd like to flesh it out a little more OR if you weren't at the meeting and would like to add your 2 cents' worth.

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