I’ve been meaning to read Ian McEwan’s new novel “Solar” since it came out on March 30 — a new novel by McEwan is always a large treat for me, and I’ve been savoring the prospect of this new read. Despite its somewhat mixed reviews, the premise of this new – and comic – novel intrigues me.
It centers around an egotistical, middle-aged British physicist tackling the issue of climate change, whose scientific work in harnessing the sun’s power for energy is contrasted by his gluttonous, over-consuming lifestyle.
McEwan was inspired to write the book after taking a trip to the Arctic in 2005 aboard the Norwegian ship Noorderlicht to view the effects being ravaged on the landscape by climate change (in the book, McEwan’s protagonist apparently takes a similar journey). To successfully address the issue of global warming in fiction isn’t an easy prospect; instead of treating a doom-laden subject with heavy handed morality, McEwan has opted for comedy, a form that he has hinted at in previous works, but never fully explored, as far as I know. His treatment of science in his novels, though, has always been precisely detailed, to the extent that the meticulous descriptions of neurosurgery in “Saturday” could completely absorb even a scientifically-challenged reader like me. As for the issue of climate change, I’m curious to see what light literature can throw upon the dark subject of global warming; if any author can make sense of the issue, I’ll wager McEwan’s the man to do it.
The other book that’s caught my interest lately is “The Imperfectionists”, the debut novel of Tom Rachman; partly because of the stunning first reviews, partly because I like the title, but mostly because of its subject: newspapers.
The book is set amidst an unnamed English-language daily in Rome, which “doesn’t even have a website”, founded by an American businessman who’s grandson is now the owner, though apparently all the grandson cares about is a basset hound called Schopenhauer (just that little touch alone makes me want to read the book). The novel is arranged into short story-like installments featuring a different staff member of the paper: the Paris correspondent struggling for a source, the obits editor dealing with death in his own life, the veteran Cairo stringer overwhelming the ambitious newbie. I’ll admit: I peeked inside the first chapter and found a wonderfully funny scene in which the aforementioned Paris correspondent is trying to convince an editor to take a feature article on ortolans, small birds soaked in Cognac that are a French delicacy and were “Mitterrand’s last meal.” “You don’t want the ortolan?” the correspondent, Lloyd Burko, says as the editor asks for something more timely.
These two darkly comic novels are a delicious prospect; I’ve been drawn to comedy lately, particularly as I’m nearing the end of Stella Gibbons’ hilarious “Cold Comfort Farm” (a book which should be read by anyone with relatives). McEwan’s new novel has been shortlisted for the 2010 Wodehouse comic novel prize, and Rachman’s book has been likened, in parts, to Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop.” I expect to be laughing well into June.