Micheal Beard is one of the most interesting characters Ian McEwan’s ever conceived. He is a womanizing 50-year old whose dick got frozen and got cut in the Arctic. The dick then had to roll off from his crotch down to his winter overalls and some hours later down to the cabin floor where a woman had to pick it up for him thinking it was his lip balm. It’s funny but also it has that quality of making you grab your own dick and balls just because of such scene which McEwan describes in horrid detail. I don’t think though that comedy is the point of Solar which is what the cut dick scene seems to achieve. It’s actually a statementy novel about the very relevant and very urgent issue of global warming and climate change. A novel about a 50-something physicist who wishes to cure the world’s overheating issues seems like such a boring thing to consider specially since McEwan is a terrific researcher himself and you know that a science novel of his would not read like it cares whether you know physics, quantum mechanics and photovoltaics.
Which of course it doesn’t end up alienating or disappointing. It doesn’t punish you for not knowing enough about global warming and everything that has to do with it. It makes you understand the issue while also piecing a gripping marital thriller. Michael Beard, as McEwan lovingly describes him is a fat, unattractive geeky man whose very qualities lure him to women. He’s also very smart and entitled that the world’s most famous science organizations are scrambling to get him to speak at their conferences, universities are giving him grants just because he has a thing or two to say about The Issue, and women find him so charming. But what a curse it is to have such privilege and prestige if one has a shitty home life whereupon McEwan sets the pace by setting off Beard for an Arctic adventure.
But the drama doesn’t begin with physics. It naturally begins in the home of Michael Beard who in his late 40s, finds himself pining for his 5th wife whom until recently he’s been treating like dirt. And just as things were looking worse for the paunchy, aging, childless man, things get even screwed up when the wife starts to take lover boys. Unhappy with the marriage, Patrice Beard would appear to have had as much affairs as the clueless husband, including in her posse of lovers, the house repairman and her husband’s right hand man in the science institute who happens to himself have a solution to the world’s energy-producing problems.
Setting on mission to save the planet from cooking itself, Michael Beard attends a round of conferences and does plenty of research work, gathering an army of science geeks, one of which happens to be screwing his wife. Skank that she is, Mrs. Beard sets for herself a domestic disaster when husband finds her boytoy in his own house wearing his own fancy robe. Geek that he is, Mr. Beard runs for the phone to let the institute know that boy toy is getting fired, upon which the smart, audacious and probably hot scientist runs after the esteemed but shamed Nobel-price winning man only to meet a wonderfully narrated death by polar bear carpet slip.
As gripping as this domestic drama is, I find the climate change parts even more thrilling. I was more elated at the prospect of Beard saving the world with his synthetic photosynthesis experiment than I was with the prospect of the murder set-up getting resolved. And so what would actually happen when the world succumbs to total global warming is we’ll all die by slow painful death. McEwan puts in as much global warming real life incidents as the Copenhagen conference where nothing got agreed on, and on a littler scale, how industrialists are not too keen on switching up from oil to whatever it is the mad scientists propose to replace it with. Scientists too, apparently have a stake in changing up the world’s energy generators as Beard tells a colleague who worries about certain press proclaiming the climate change issue as nothing to worry about, to relax as catastrophe is assured.
Pacing the story in 5-year intervals, Beard is seen going through an up-down cycle of bad luck and unstoppable aging. In 2000, he’s neared divorce, had a man get killed through his home’s fancy floor decor, and had his penis frozen. Fast forward to 2005, he gets murdered by the media who called him out on a misconstrued objectivity towards gender roles, gaining for himself a reputation of chauvinist. Finally in 2009, the man he framed for the accidental death of his wife’s lover seem to want to get back at him, he’s faced with the hassle of having to deal with his newly acquired woman and kid and mistress, and the would-be life-saving alternative energy experiment’s launch looks bleak. He is truly, truly fucked.
It’s been said, I don’t know by who but it must have been, that Solar is Ian McEwan’s cry for help. Less cry than scold. His own version of a Copenhagen street protester’s version of Stop Global Warming Now! Do Something! or something. It must be because how else to explain the complete disregard for everything that’s gone wrong with Beard and planet, leaving nothing resolved. While it’s true that fiction is never required to neatly tie everything together in the end, when you take something as aware and as relevant as this, the thriller understandably could never end at the last page and, call me a priss, but there should be a tiny, tiny glimmer of hope. In this book as it is in real life, there’s yet to be done on the impending global warming. As of now, we’re all in an oven. Solar is not horror but it will give you the chills.