Ian McEwan’s new novel, Solar, is supposed to be a “comic novel about climate change”.
But there’s not much in it about climate change—and it’s not very funny.
Michael Beard is the unlikeable main character, a physicist with a disastrous personal life and obnoxious habits. His grotesque overconsumption is blatantly a metaphor for human behaviour and its impact on the planet.
Beard falls into a position leading a government-backed project to develop clean energy. He’s not really interested in climate change. It is “one in a list of issues” and Beard has “other things to think about”.
But environmental destruction is useful for furthering his career—and his bank balance.
This book isn’t worth reading if you are actually concerned about the environment.
It’s not that it denies the existence of climate change—there are regular silly references to crazy weather patterns and a warming planet.
And there are whole passages where Beard competently puts the case for global warming.
But the book is very cynical about scientists, environmentalists, and people in general.
For example, Beard goes on an all expenses paid trip to the Arctic as part of a group of “artists and scientists concerned with climate change”.
Their jaunt comes across as a luxurious holiday for middle class hippies who just want to play in the snow. And it’s not clear what the trip generates in terms of scientific research.
The message is clear: so-called “scientists” are gallivanting around the globe, staying in extravagant lodges and eating fancy food at our expense.
At one point, a colleague asks Beard if the earth is in fact cooling.
He rejects the idea—but the whole exchange is so flippant and superficial that it trivialises his arguments.
Readers will probably conclude that, if climate change is a serious threat, there’s no hope of it being dealt with on a planet full of the self-centred, frivolous, greedy and devious characters found in Ian McEwan’s world.
But it’s more likely that they’ll conclude nothing about the environment—just that they wasted a whole lot of energy reading the book.
Solar by Ian McEwan and published by Random House is out now