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lundi 21 juin 2010

“Solar” by Ian McEwan - Published by Jonathan Cape 2010 - Hard cover edition £18.99

Le présent billet a été rédigé par Jacquie Bridonneau, que je remercie. Une traduction en français sera publiée prochainement.

“Solar” is a book that tells a story narrated by Michael Beard, a Nobel prize winner in quantum physics for a brilliant idea called the Conflation, which modified the way in which a part of Einstein’s work had been believed to be true, and thus changed the understanding of the interaction between matter and electronic radiation. But before everyone stops reading this book review, saying that they (like me) never understood a thing taught in school about physics and that fact certainly has not impacted their present lives, you don’t have to worry. This is just a background for the character, who, ever since that one moment of genius when he was still a young researcher, has never done anything else, and has coasted comfortably through life rolling on that one idea. We see the world just as Beard does, and are offered bribes of information about his Conflation, and how it will be able to save the world using cheap renewable energy through a process of artificial photosynthesis, but everything is quite understandable.

Beard is a short, overweight, balding older man, who women, for some strange reason, are attracted to. And this is strange, because he’s actually a selfish, ego-centered and thoroughly despicable character, but he knows this, and makes no attempt at all to change anything. He consumes wine, women, and food without being able to control himself, with only the goal of short-term satisfaction. He has actually been married five times, and is having two major affaires in this book, with two women who believe that they will be his sixth wife, while still being in love with his fifth wife who had the gall to leave him, and has a 3 year old daughter, his first and only child, at the end of the book.

Loads of things happen during the nine year span of this book, divided into three different sections by date, 2000, 2005, and 2009; some of them are actually quite funny. But somehow when you arrive at the end of the book, everything seems to have happened inside Beard’s head, you have the feeling his Arctic trip, the “Centre” where he worked, his fellow physicist, Aldous, who by the way is also having an affair with Beard’s wife, dies in a bizarre accident; all of this seems just to be the background, going past quickly, while Beard continues to move the story and plot along inside his head.

So there is a death in this book, albeit an accidental death, but Beard, who witnessed this death, conveniently arranges to frame his wife’s other lover, who was just a general contractor and who had done some work on their house, and he ended up in prison for murder. He comes back in the end to haunt Beard, but not for the reason we, and Beard, believe. So there is justice in this book, but it is also a surprising type, good seems to triumph over evil, though evil sure puts up a good fight, personified by Beard.

Would I recommend reading this book? Yes, I would. It was the first book I have read by Ian McEwan, so I had no expectations about this author. I thought it was very well written, satirical in parts, and with quite a few twists of fate and plot I had not been expecting. And yes, I did understand the bits of science and physics in it; my high school teachers can be proud of me.

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