Leesfragment: The disparity between the self-made disorder and our aspirations

27 november 2015 , door Ian McEwan
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De nieuwe roman van Ian McEwan is verschenen: Solar. We geven een mooie korting op Solar (van € 22,95 voor € 17,50), en McEwans oudere werk (allemaal voor € 9,95), we bespreken in de loop van deze weken On Chesil Beach, The Comfort of Strangers en Saturday, en vanavond brengen we een Q&A met McEwan zelf, wat fotomateriaal uit de oude doos met McEwan in jonger jaren en we mogen de eerste pagina's laten lezen.

Over Solar: Michael Beard is in his late fifties; bald, overweight, unprepossessing – a Nobel prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions and half-heartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. An inveterate philanderer, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. When Beard’s professional and personal worlds are entwined in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself, a chance for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster.

De Nederlandse vertaling verschijnt in september 2010.

Ian McEwan met zijn Nederlandse uitgever Jaco Groot.
Ian McEwan, hier met zijn Nederlandse uitgever, Jaco Groot.
(Met dank aan Uitgeverij De Harmonie.)

'The disparity between the self-made disorder and our aspirations'

The science in Solar is impressive. How long did you spend researching the science of climate change?
Most of my research for Solar was in the reading. A lot of papers, a lot of books. There's a huge amount of material on climate science now. I also had to find a technology that was still just a little out of reach to give the novel its forward movement. I spent some time travelling in New Mexico looking for the right location for the end of the novel. And spent time in Colorado at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and that helped me devise a rather dowdier version of that lab here in England. I talked to a few physicists and I was lucky on a journey in Ecuador last year to run into a Cambridge physicist, Graeme Mitchison, and he checked all my science, such as it is, especially the quantum mechanics. I asked him to reverse engineer for me Michael Beard's Nobel Prize citation. Graeme rose to this challenge magnificently with a humorous paper by a fictional academician from the Swedish Academy of the Sciences.

How have you felt about how the events in Copenhagen played out?
Like most people I've been rather cast down by it. I had high hopes. We didn't know that the Americans were going to be so unprepared. The US system of government is such that the President is not free in the way that many other heads of state are, or that prime ministers are. We never calculated that the Chinese were going to drag their feet in the way they did, or that the Europeans were going to be so weak, so it was a disappointment. At least we can say that 190 odd countries came together to address the problem. I guess this was a conflict - a head on collision - between our capacity for reasoned argument and science on the one hand and our tribalism expressed in terms of national interest on the other. The tribalism won out, but my hope for the future is that first of all the conference will reconvene and that the process will go on at government level. Secondly, I there are many developments, transformations taking place in technology, in businesses, in the attitude of individuals, and that it could well be that the process of change, clean energy and decarbonising economies will come about significantly from a bottom up process. And there are other forces at work. Oil will run out sooner or later. There's a demand for energy security and at national and even city levels all around the world there are administrative, beauracratic drives to encourage local initiatives. This is the hope that we have to cling to, that the process it will partly move out of governments' hands.

You too went to the Arctic with a group of scientists. Did this expedition inspire your writing of Solar, or did the idea for the book come first? How did your experience in the Arctic differ from that of Michael Beard?
It didn't really change my mind about climate change. We were only there a week and obviously I wasn't doing any scientific research, but I did find a way into the subject. People were gathered together, bound by their concern about climate change. We spent our evenings discussing it, talking about how the world needed fundamental changes of approach and culture, and at the same there was this growing chaos in the room next door - the boot room, where all our outdoor gear was stored - our snow mobile suits and so on. It was this disparity between the self-made disorder in our lives on the ship, and our aspirations, our ideals, suggested that one approach to this subject was through a kind of forgiving humour. Climate change is a real challenge to human nature.

The 'bag of crisps' incident on the train is hilarious. Have you personally encountered this type of incident or is it indeed folklore as Beard's colleagues believe it to be?
There is a point in the novel when Michael Beard boards a train. He's something of a glutton and his special predilection is for salt and vinegar flavoured crisps. He eats the crisps that are on the table in front of him and to his amazement a young man sitting opposite helps himself to the packet. There's a silent stand-off between them. It's only when Beard gets off the train and he puts his hand in his pocket that he discovers his own crisps are there and all along he'd been eating the other man's. I think the story is pure urban legend. It has spread much in the way jokes do. The anecdote is known in contemporary urban legend studies as the Unwitting Thief. It pops up in novels, in movies. People like to appropriate the experience, so they will often tell the story as though it happened to someone they knew, or to themselves. When I read my account at a literary festival, in the signing queue afterwards more than six or seven people said that had happened to them, or to someone they know. I decided to describe encounter between Michael Beard and an urban legend professor, who insists that Beard's ecperience is inauthentic - which of course makes him very indignant.

People have suggested that some of your books appeal more to women (Atonement, On Chesil Beach) and others towards men (Saturday). Do you agree with this and if so, where does Solar fit on that male/female spectrum?
I don't know if I do agree. My sense of novels is that they mostly appeal to women. If there were no women readers I think the contemporary literary novel would collapse. I had my own experience of this when I went out into the gardens in front of my house with my son Greg. We had 100 paperback books we were trying to get rid of. Some of them were mine, but mostly they were just paperback versions of hardbacks we already had. Office workers were out on the lawn - it was a hot summer's day - having their picnic lunches from the various offices around. We went around saying 'would you like a free book?' and every woman we encountered said 'I'd love a book', went through the pile saying 'Can I have more than two? Can I have three?' and every bloke we approached said 'No sorry mate, no, not for me.' We couldn't give one book away to a man and if one wants to make a gender distinction about novel reading it's right there. Mostly book groups, mostly signing queues, a larger proportion of audiences in readings are female and it was always thus. The novel in the 18th century had its roots in educated women readers and it's a wonder really that there are men writing them.

De eerste pagina's van Solar

Random House

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