It is an ancient reviewer’s cliché that the older novelists get, the more like themselves they become. The tics grow more pronounced; the stylisation more conspicuous; the resort to favourite themes and patternings more artless. The least that can be said of Solar, consequently, is that it is a very typical Ian McEwan novel. There are the lashings of ‘research’, none of it lightly worn; there is the customary freight of improbable incident; there is the well-meaning, if faintly neurotic, Guardian-reader sensibility, which saturates the proceedings; there is a great deal of notably fine writing, and a genuine engagement with the hot topics (literally, in this case) of the time; and a fair amount that doesn’t even begin to convince. Rarely has a contemporary novelist managed to be quite so modish in his concerns and yet quite so old-fashioned in the way he chooses to execute them.
Despite his praiseworthy determination to confront some of the great anxieties of the age – see in particular Saturday (2005), set on the day of the 2003 anti-Iraq march through central London – McEwan’s novels nearly always exhibit a curiously old-world tint. Part of this is to do