This slipped under my radar, having read every one of his first 13 novels, novellas and short story collections. I used to consider McEwan my favourite writer but that title has been lost after two out of three damp squibs. This being one of them.
Solar was followed by the awful Sweet Tooth and it’s kind of a companion piece of sorts. Although Solar is nominally about climate change, it’s really about a misogynistic old man’s sexual desires and, in that respect, riffs off the follow up which explores sexuality from the female side. Although Sweet Tooth is written in the first person (a terrible mistake as McEwan is a long way detached from a 20 something female’s perspective) this is written in the third person narrative, although I use the word narrative with reservations. It doesn’t make it any better.
It’s just plain boring from start to finish, is the problem. Long ponderous descriptive set pieces, deep dive examinations of a character’s character from the despicable anti=hero’s perspective – the deathly dull Nobel Prize winning philanderer Michael Beard.
McEwan creates a character that is so unremittingly unlikeable that it’s difficult to find any purchase in the proceedings. I simply didn’t care about him one whit.
Writing about unsympathetic or unpleasant characters is by no means a forlorn task. Jeckyl and Hyde, Frankenstein, Patrick Suskind’s Perfume; all feature monsters that are utterly compelling.
This just features a monster.
The cover blurb states that it is the winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. I am incredulous at that as it is simply not funny. Grotesque perhaps, but funny – no.
If McEwan hadn’t followed up sweet tooth with The Children Act I’d say his career was over, but The Children Act is a formidable piece of writing and storytelling that sits along his best.
This and Sweet Tooth, by contrast, feel self-indulgent, knocked off with particularly thin premises for their existence. Thank God it’s over.