An engrossing, satirical and very funny new novel on climate
Michael Beard is in his late fifties; bald, overweight,
unprepossessing - a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose best work
is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous
fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific
institutions and half-heartedly heads a government-backed
initiative tackling global warming. An inveterate philanderer,
Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. But this time it is
different: she is having the affair, and he is still in love with
When Beard''s professional and personal worlds are entwined in a
freak accident, an opportunity presents itself, a chance for Beard
to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career
and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster.
With a global scope, Solar is a comedy dealing
directly with the crises of today. A story of one man''s ambitions
and self-deceptions, it is a startling and stylish new departure in
the work of one of the world''s great writers.
IAN McEWAN is the author of two collections of stories and eleven
previous novels, including Enduring Love,
Amsterdam, for which he won the Booker Prize in
1998, Atonement and, most recently, On
1. Examine the character of Michael Beard, described in the
novel''s opening sentence as "Vaguely unprepossessing, bald, short,
fat, clever… stricken". What do you think are Beard''s virtues, and
what are his vices? Is it possible to view him as a hero, or
2. Solar takes as its main theme climate
change, and the immense difficulties in tackling it. What do you
think the novel has to say about climate change, and contemporary
efforts to combat it?
3. Jonathan Raban has described Ian McEwan as "the best realist
novelist alive." Do you think that Solar confirms
this evaluation? If so, in what ways?
4. A Nobel Prize-winning physicist dedicated to fighting global
warming, and an "emblem of instincts that have brought our species
to its present hazardous state". What do you believe the author is
articulating about society and climate change through the character
of Michael Beard?
5. "I actually find novels that are determined to be funny at
every turn quite oppressive." (Ian McEwan, Guardian
Given the sober themes of Solar - the threat of
climate change, murder, plagiarism, adultery - to what extent do
you view it as a "comedy"?
6. To what extent is Solar a tragedy?
7. "It''s good to get your hands dirty a bit and to test how you
see things at a given point. And it''s very pleasing after writing
something like Atonement or On Chesil
Beach, which are historical, to get involved in some
plausible re-enactment of the here and now."
To what extent do you see Solar as a contemporary
novel? How far do you agree that it is a novel solely concerned
with the problems of today?
8. "There was plenty behind me to make me feel that what had to
be really radical in literature was the content, not the style"
Gaining an early reputation for the controversial subject matter of
his stories, how far do you believe Solar
continues this tradition in the work of Ian McEwan?
9. Luck and coincidence play pivotal roles in Michael Beard''ss
success over the course of the novel. To what extent do you see him
as a man in control of his destiny? To what extent is he a victim
10. To what extent do you believe that Michael Beard suffers for
his actions in Solar? Do you believe that he gets
what he deserves by the novel''s end?