Buy Solar by Ian McEwan
Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region
by Harold Gilliam
Solar is a delightful and dark satire on the greed of humanity, embodied in the massive and deceptive Nobel Prize winner Michael Beard, whose brief brilliance was recognized and feted, who received (perhaps in confusion) a Nobel Prize, and who coasted thereafter on his appetites for wives, fame, fortune, food, and energy — an unlikely person to save the planet from man-induced climate change.
Solar moves smoothly through the first two of its three sections:
|He read popular science magazines like the Scientific American ... to keep himself up-to-date, in layman's terms, with physics generally. But even then his concentration was marred, for a lifetime's habit made him inconveniently watchful for his own name. [p.50]|
The funniest part of the book occurs in a free trip that Beard (always delighted to receive as tribute to his Nobel)
takes to the Arctic. I thought nothing would be funnier in this book than the multi-page description
of Beard's confused attempt to put on the required cold-insulation suit. But then Beard claims that he can
drive a snowmobile; off he goes and then still an hour from his destination, Beard has a McEwan-signature experience: Beard decides
that he has to pee, exposes his groin to wind and air much colder than freezing, and
— hell freezes over, as it were. Beard makes his only clever action with brandy in the book
to free his tackle. But shortly after fastening up his suit and continuing on his journey:
|Something cold and hard had dropped from Beard's groin and fallen down inside the leg of his long johns and was now lodged just above his kneecap. He put his hand between his legs and there was nothing. ... The burning sensation in his groin was spreading, his cock had slipped round and was nestling under the crook of his knee. [p.61-62]|
[In the Acknowledgments to Solar, Ian McEwan thanks David Buckland and Cape Farewell for his February 2005 trip to Spitsbergen: "this novel had its beginning on a frozen fjord".]
|"the bonking boffin," a "Nobel love rat," and a kind of learned satyr, "the prof goat." [p.137]|
But he appears to be (surprise) a successful scientist:
|A leaf is a kind of solar panel for splitting water and fixing carbon dioxide. We could imitate it and make hydrogen. [p.170]|
In between sex, bathroom visits, and so much food that it's no wonder Beard has to vomit now and then, we learn more about Beard's plans to become rich and famous by working in climate-change amelioration, even though the methods are either shady or claimed unfairly to be his.
So by the third section, "2009", Beard is a pretty unsympathetic fellow,
particularly when he says things like:
|Here's the good news. The UN estimates that already a third of a million people a year are dying from climate change. Bangladesh is going down because the oceans are warming and expanding and rising. There's drought in the Amazonian rainforest. Methane is pouring out of the Siberian permafrost. Now the eastern Antarctic is going.|
The bottom line: Despite the grim irony of Beard finding such news 'good', if this novel convinces a number of climate-change skeptics to revise their opinions, maybe McEwan's dystopian novel might be his most valuable to us.
No wonder we are glad to see Beard's personal world fall apart, even while he wriggles on the hook of Denial.
Glossary: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.
Forest and Tree Home,
Glossary pages: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.
|Copyright © 2010 by J. Zimmerman.|
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