Review of Solar by Ian McEwan
The protagonist is Michael Beard, a Noble Laureate physicist, who at 53 is coasting on his laurels. He hasn’t done any cutting-edge thinking since his youthful breakthrough in quantum physics.
He is a serial philanderer so it is not surprising that his fifth marriage is breaking up as the novel opens. Then he pilfers ideas from a young scientist (also his wife’s lover who dies accidentally) and becomes a proponent of technology which will tap solar energy through artificial photosynthesis.
Michael is a totally unlikeable character: he’s a slob, glutton, adulterer, alcoholic egomaniac. He lacks any humility or self-reproach. He’s an opportunist who lives only for the present with little regard for consequences. In his consumption of food, women and drink, he becomes a symbol of humans who are devouring the planet’s resources.
There are many comic episodes. The book even won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, a British literary award for comic writing. For example, Beard’s misadventures in the Arctic are very humourous, almost slapstick.
The reader knows that events are inevitably sliding toward disaster as all parts of Michael’s life converge. There is no doubt that Nemesis is approaching. The problem is that the end comes too suddenly.