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Portrait of a shifty Noble Prize laureate
le 23 mars 2011
Ian Mc Ewan (McE)'s novel ""Solar" is hard to judge. I loved his novel ""Saturday so much that I slowed down my reading to make it last longer, and made it a present for friends as far afield as Tajikistan. After 40 pp. into "Solar", I hated the book and looked at the prospect of another 245 pp. with alarm.
Its main protagonist Michael Beard is a short, fat, repellent, five-times married, but winner, perhaps by mistake, of the Noble Prize for Physics in the mid-1980s. He has lived a life of indulgence and rent-seeking behaviour ever since. The book begins in 2000, at the start of a decade under the spell of climate change, a threat he rubbishes, but when fate turns against him, a cause he embraces.
I enjoy reading about bad and stupid characters, as long as the author, creator keeps them on a tight leash. My early frustration with the book was a lack of "flow", which is the desire to continue to read on and on. McE allows his unattractive hero, time and again, in small portions, to make a case for himself in his own words. That is OK, highly amusing even, suggesting a possible universal male mindset. But occasionally and annoyingly, McE intervenes himself, briefly, to exonerate his ugly creation, as if to say that MB is not totally deprived, and that he (McE) should never be identified with him...
That kills the pace of the book, which is otherwise beautifully written, very thoroughly researched, sensitive to all sorts of trends and fashions, exposing the false post-modernist forms of pseudo-science, typically British manipulations of public opinion, etc.
But in his novel "London Fields" Martin Amis (MA) was in total control of his abysmal character Keith Talent, who shares many preoccupations and habits with Noble-laureate Michael Beard. But MA never gave Keith a second's worth of true lucidity and wisdom. The venerable Elmore Leonard, creator of many dumb, inept criminal characters, never gave any of them the opportunity for bouts of philosophy or deep self-reflection.
I found this book more difficult to interpret than any other I came across recently. My assessment may be wrong. But it is an excellently-composed, rich book, mixing big, serious matters with farce and comedy. It is a genre Ian McEwan should, however, in future leave to others.