Monday, August 23, 2010

Ian McEwan's "Solar"

Just finished McEwan's latest. It's terrible. "A carefully crafted lesson plan," Walter Kirns calls it in the Sunday Book Review. I share the same judgment of the novel, but Kirns puts it more witheringly and wittily than I ever can. Here is a choice passage:

What makes “Solar” such a noble nullity is that it answers these challenges [of plotting] so easily, with such a quotient of stress-free mastery that they feel less like challenges than like problems in a literary exam the author has devised as a means of proving his own prowess. This may be Beard’s story, but it’s McEwan’s vehicle, constructed to let him pull all the showy turns of the major contemporary novelist and ambitious public intellectual: personalizing the political, politicizing the personal and poeticizing everything else. The tip-off is Beard, who’s endowed by his creator with precisely the vices — apathy, slothfulness, gluttony and hypocrisy — that afflict the society the book condemns, threatening to cook the human race in the heat- trapping gases released by its own arrogance. Because a fictional character can exhibit only so much awareness of his own thematic utility, Beard doesn’t notice any of this, merely regarding himself as a colorful eccentric. But readers will see him for what he is: a figure so stuffed with philosophical straw that he can barely simulate lifelike movement.

Even McEwan's celebrated prose did not cover the thinness of the novel. Kirns was devastating on it, calling the performance "an exquisite bore, with all the overchoreographed dullness of a touring ice ballet cast with off-season Olympic skaters." Kirns could also have called on the author's reliance on cliches. The epigraph to the novel quotes from John Updike's Rabbit is Rich, but having just read Updike's Rabbit Redux, I was even more disappointed by McEwan's morality tale.

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