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Just finished it; made me laugh.
Themes: global warming and the scientific controversy around it; academic life and especially funding of academic research; the onset of old age and what it means for a man about his sex life, his health, his relationship with his children, his marriage(s), his career and especially his reputation and legacy; greed of all kinds; how humanity might be able to face up to and deal with problems as serious as global warming.
Plot summary: Main character, physicist Michael Beard, heads a UK government-funded research institute on global warming, mainly because he won a Nobel prize, many years ago, for a piece of work on relativity. He provides scientific gravitas, and accepted the role because his career has been less than glorious since the Nobel. A group of younger, more able physicists at the institute includes Tom Aldous, all of whom Beard finds unimpressive yet threatening, with their energy and idealism. When he discovers both that his latest wife is having an affair and that she may truly be 'the one' (though the two facts could be connected), in a dejected moment he agrees to go on a global warming fact-finding mission to the Arctic. It's a shambles of poor organisation and selfishness, without much hard science being done.
On his return, he finds his wife Patrice is also having an affair with Aldous, whom he introduced to her. A heated discussion in Beard's kitchen results in Tom slipping and hitting his head, and dying. Beard successfully frames his wife's other lover, a builder called Tarpin, for the death, but he does have Aldous' research notes on photosynthesis, which they were discussing. He builds his further reputation on it, obscuring the fact that it was not his own work. He becomes an authority on solar power and artificial photosynthesis, finding venture capital, an excellent project manager, Toby Hammer, and a site in the US to build the first experimental power plant.
His new girlfriend Melissa adores him, and she's a good cook; perfect for a glutton. But she desperately wants a child, and eventually becomes pregnant by him, and has a daughter, with whom Beard has a warm though intermittent relationship. Out in sunny New Mexico, he also sleeps with (and not much more than that) another girlfriend, Darlene, a waitress (more food). He's just about managing to keep it all together - the plant's grand opening, his relationships with two women and with his daughter, his obesity and poor health, his relations with his investors - when events coalesce against him. Melissa and Darlene meet and find out about each other at first hand, a British government lawyer appears, to sue him over having stolen Aldous' work, which makes his project manager resign, and the investors disappear, and Tarpin reappears after his jail sentence and smashes all his solar panels. The novel ends with him sitting over a meal (of course) as Darlene and Melissa storm into the restaurant, with his daughter by Melissa, Catriona, skipping in front. As he rises, he feels his heart swell; with love for his daughter? with indigestion? with another heart attack?
The book's a departure for McEwan, more sardonic and farcical than his other novels, and has been favourably reviewed in the UK. Here's an interview with him on his publisher's website:
A well-drawn anti-hero, who's also a metaphor, some marvellous set pieces. I found it a fine entertainment.
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