Solar by Ian McEwan was my latest audiobook, it took me a while to listen to this one as I tend to only listen when I’m embroidering (as opposed to when I’m on the sewing machine when I can’t concentrate, sewing machine time at the moment = Scissor Sisters, Eminem or Plan B).
Solar is the story of the slightly dubious in both a professional and personal sense, scientist, Professor Beard. He has been married multiple times, is a consummate cheater, drinks too much, eats too much and is living off past Nobel glory. We join the story as he’s obsessing over his latest wife who he discovers is sleeping with the builder whilst Beard is working as the figurehead to a government renewable energy lab, even though he doesn’t have anywhere near the green conviction of some of the ‘pony-tailed PhDs’.
The story is a comedy and there are some incredibly funny bits, notably the scenes when he’s on a jolly in the Antartic (or is it the Artic, I can’t remember) and Beard is trying desperately to get into all the protective gear that you need to go out on one of those ski sledge motorbike things and then when he finally gets all the clothes on and onto the bike, he of course desperately needs the toilet, he tries to hold on but in the end, whilst out in the snowy, freezing wilderness, he jumps off the bike and tries to unzip his trousers and of course he gets frost bite on his you know where, much hilarity ensues.
Later on things between the builder, Beard and his wife come to a head and by sheer fluke (a lot of Beard’s life seems to be led by that) Beard falls onto something that dramatically changes his fortune and leads him out to America to develop artificial photosynthesis. But McEwan leads the components of Beard’s past right back to the scientist’s moment of glory with inevitable results.
Solar was one of those books that from a wannabe writer’s viewpoint I felt like I learnt stuff, I loved how McEwan choreographed together the various seemingly separate aspects of Beard’s life and I also loved how he divided the book into three parts. Now normally when a book is divided into parts it’s often just to signify that a period of time has elapsed between each part and this is the case with Solar but McEwan also leaves you hanging a bit to because he’s ended the previous part with some aspect of Beard’s life about to change and you start reading the next part thinking, “Well did it change, what happened, did he get caught out?” and McEwan plays with you for a while, in one case making you assume one thing from the events that are described and then you find out that your assumptions were wrong.
McEwan also made a, on paper at least, rather unlikeable character, somehow likeable, even if completely responsible for his own misfortune and you can’t help but feel sorry for him. I really enjoyed this book.