Friday, November 26, 2010
Book Review : Ian McEwan - Solar (2010)
Country: United Kingdom
My first audiobook and boy, will I ever keep fond memories. I "read" Solar while walking Scarlett for the last week and discovered a smart and mature writers, who developed a style and a discourse of his own. I associated his name with the contrived face of James McAvoy in the adaptation of Atonement and tried to stay the hell away from him for almost ten years. After going through Solar, I admit, it was a mistake.
McEwan's latest offering is a satirical novel about climate change. That's a weird tone to take. An ecological disaster is ultimately what's going to kill us all, so to take a mocking angle on it? That is exactly how McEwan puts his novel above the others. Michael Beard is a brilliant, serious physicist that won the Nobel prize in his youth and he's given a special opportunity, save the world from that abstract calamity that is global warming. But as much as Beard is a respected figure in intellectual circles, he also has a life outside work and it's all over the place. The novel takes place over a nine years period where he: divorces with his fifth wife, accidentally gets somebody killed, frames another for murder, gets his girlfriend pregnant. A lot of activity for that eminent scientist in his fifties.
I liked Solar so much because it's tackling two very important and passionating issues and it does it with style. First of all, Michael Beard is a prime example of those people for whom knowledge is all. It's power, it's money and it ends up being themselves, which causes terrible problem when time to function outside an intellectual circle. Beard literally cannot function when his intellectual power isn't adequate to the situation. He's trapped by who he always wanted to become, he reached a point of "non-return" like many other intellectuals.
Also, Solar discusses the frail nature of knowledge and truth. Let's quote for example a fictional objective fact: "The sun will explode in 20 years". It's alarming news, but in order to get people alarmed, it has to go through so many deforming subjective layers, it's never going to reach it's destination. First of all, it has to go through the scientist who asks himself: "Will my career go forward if I announce that? Will I get my grant, knowing all is going to end"? Then is has to go through journalists, who have to decide if it's a good story or if it's worth it to alarm people and create chaos. The government also and other scientist who will try to gain person momentum by refuting the statement. The truth is object to human nature and it's a terrifying aspect put forward by Solar.
The great achievement of Ian McEwan in this novel is to have used the satirical tone to his advantage, to put his points forward. Trapping himself in drama would have obfuscated his discourse with an empty story that would have taken way too much space. With the satirical approach, he makes Michael Beard a rhetorical example and removes credibility from the "state of knowledge". It puts a perspective on the notion of emergency and drama. McEwan is a brilliant mind and a capable writer. Solar delighted me.