Saturday, April 3, 2010
Solar by Ian McEwan
Fiction of this caliber is too rare, but is all the more welcome for being so. Solar has a message, great prose, hilarious caricatures, and a laugh-at-aging-old-me sense of humility. The book felt like an amusing conversation with several bright friends where a number of the important discussion topics of our time are (lightly, lightly) raised: the "social construct" of genetic code, cap and trade, solar vs. wind, photosynthetic energy, government responsibility, the tentativeness of financing, the "coldhearted predation" of the media.
In a time when one might plausibly argue the world is falling down around our ears, it is heartening and enervating to have a crusty old scold and storyteller spin a tale of human greed, folly, and out-sized appetites, and how we manage to move ahead despite these things. The inexorability of the human aging process is rendered so ridiculous it makes us laugh while we weep. But what I liked most was McEwan showing us that even the greatest among us is so fatally flawed and so repulsively human, that we are bound to fail--unless...and this is the genius in the equation...we cooperate.
And how could it be otherwise? Even as free light from the sun falls on our heedless heads, we focus blearily on the changing weather through the thick glass bottoms of anesthetizing glasses of scotch. Only when weather threatens to drown or parch us do we half-heartedly sling our heavy buttocks out of our easy chairs to murmur, annoyed, that the government should do something, sue someone, drill somewhere. Folly, all.
Art may after all be an important prod to action, but here I find it a resting place, a way-station on the weary slog to changing things we feel helpless to change, even though we must. It places our finest thinkers right down among us, so we can all claim some superiority, and perhaps even some responsibility. McEwan suggests, perhaps, that even self-interest plays a role in advancing the ball towards the goal, but shows how easily it can all come undone, lest we not be vigilant.
In the following #Vimeo interview & reading by McEwan is his take on his climate change novel, Solar, starting at 18.39 in the film.