Sunday, September 04, 2011

Ian McEwan's Solar - book review in a lift

While reading this book on holiday, over a fortnight, I stopped a couple of times, I turned to Rachel and said - I think he's losing the plot this bloke. Ian McEwan has always been smug and a bit snooty about working class characters and here he sneers with some degree of unsympathetic contempt at two important characters, a tradesman and a young goofy scientist. Even Michael Beard, the main character, with his six marriages is that exaggerated grotesque creation that he and his mate Martin Amis seem to revel in building up with layers of unsympathetic unpleasantness, while still leaving you utterly in thrall to their perspective. All of that's probably an accurate reflection of a "voice" and an "ear" for such things. So these tricks, these flights of humour and fancy - like the discomfort of an ice suit and taking a toilet break in the Arctic Circle - turn out well. Similarly, each linguistic trick, or plot twist, equally turns up good. The packet of crisps on a train with a scary fellow passenger story is the strongest example - I'd first came across it in a book about Urban Legends in 1986 - link here - and then Douglas Adams used it in So Long and Thanks For All The Fish, and, ahem, I'm sure Jeffrey Archer has too. I was amazed McEwan was using it, but it comes good as a plot device. As a whole Solar deserves a standing ovation - a big bravo. It's a bold and different story, and just when you think he's disappeared up the funnel of his own self importance, he pops back. His research and grasp of science and venture capital is also commendable, as it makes credible a fabulous story of our time. Enjoyable, compelling and gripping. And genuinely funny.

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