Solar had me chuckling to myself from the first page. We meet our main antagonist an overweight, vaguely unpleasant man made up of with 1 part faded brilliance and 2 parts curmudgeon. Michael Beard is a Nobel Prize winning physicist who’s been coasting through life or perhaps past life would be more apt as he doesn’t seem to really engage with much. He bypasses genuine connection with others and events with barely disguised disdain. Disdain that doesn’t seem to be borne of his past brilliance, but more from a disappointment in something vague and just out of reach. He is like one of those curmudgeons on ‘Grumpy Old Men’ but one on the verge of a second round of greatness or absolute disaster.
A famous physicist past his best, in the dying stages of a fifth marriage coupled with climate change doesn’t necessarily sound like a foundation for humour. It’s the kind of humour you might witness on a sinking ship: slapstick, dark and inevitable. His belligerent self-involved personality, it’s own disaster, is set against the backdrop of larger disasters and the all too realistic battles with proponents of postmodernist ideas of relativistic truth. Who better to argue with such people than a self-deceiving, once brilliant scientist hungry for further adulation and recognition?
After the death of a brilliant young physicist Beard sees his chance for redemption or salvation or something like it. He blusters his way towards the ultimate solution for humanity’s clean energy problem that lies at the heart of the climate change dilemma. But is it possible for such a deeply flawed man, even a once brilliant one, to carry off the biggest revolution in history merely as a side benefit to making himself famous and celebrated again? Can he navigate the other self-made bombshells in his personal life and stay one step ahead of the fallout from the suspicious death that set his new adventure in motion?
Ian McEwan has created what is almost the perfect novel in Solar, compelling characters, great science (a real winner for me) and a truly twisted plotline. Oh yes and in parts it is squirmingly funny. An unequivocal 5 stars.