ANDREW FFRENCH delves into our latest Book of the Month – Solar, a climate change tale by Ian McEwan.

THE BOOK: SOLAR, Ian McEwan’s latest novel, takes a look at the hot topic of climate change.

In the hands of less able authors, this heavyweight subject could have prompted some readers to run for the hills, or at the very least grab a Big Mac and then throw the wrapper out of the window of their 4x4s. But with McEwan, readers need not fear the author is going to get too preachy, or write a text book on the key global warming issues.

Yes, the author knows his stuff and covers the climate change brief quickly and confidently but without boring the reader to death.

McEwan is clearly aware that people know the ice cap is melting in the Arctic but would rather talk about something more pressing, like last night’s TV or the football scores.

So although he uses climate change as a backdrop for his latest novel, that’s not really what his latest bestseller is all about.

Solar is a modern-day morality tale and at its centre is Michael Beard, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose best work was completed many moons ago.

Beard comes in the mould of a comic anti-hero and many readers would not find him at all likeable if they bumped into him at work or in their local pub.

He is bald, short, fat, clever and “unaccountably attractive to certain beautiful women”.

Beard, now splitting up from his fifth wife, is also lazy and arrogant and relies on the initiative of younger, more inspired colleagues to bolster his reputation in the climate change field.

But although Beard doesn’t have many likeable attributes, he is entirely convincing as a character at the heart of this novel set at the beginning of the 21st century.

Beard’s life is certainly not boring and, once McEwan has established just how unpleasant a man he really is, I knew I would have to keep turning the pages to find out precisely when the scientist’s house of cards would come crashing down.

At the epicentre of this successful satire is a marvellous moment of black comedy involving Beard, his love rival, a polar bear rug and a glass table.

Instead of doing the decent thing and reporting the tragic accident to the police, Beard takes the opportunity to frame one man and plagiarise the work of another.

Perhaps plagiarism has been on McEwan’s mind since he was accused of referring too closely to wartime memoirs to inspire passages in Atonement, a charge he hotly denied.

With Michael Beard, the author’s reputation as a masterful creator of fiction is assured – he has created an original character who I wanted to follow right to the bitter end.

Perhaps it is only right that the sneaky scientist’s chickens come home to roost but by the end of the novel I found myself hoping he could get away with it.

For although Beard has given up all real hope of saving the world from environmental disaster, McEwan ensures that the reader has fun watching him try.

Each time the author writes a story he attempts something different and I thoroughly enjoyed this book, his first full-length novel since Saturday.

THE AUTHOR: FOR many years, Ian McEwan lived with his family in Park Town, North Oxford, and is still considered to be an Oxford author by some critics.

Then he decided to relocate to the capital hoping a move to London would inspire new work.

The result was the 2005 novel Saturday, which focuses on one day in February, 2003, in the run-up to the Iraq War.

The award-winning author was born in June 1948 in Hampshire, and spent some of his childhood in the Far East, Germany and North Africa, where his father was posted with the Army.

He studied English at Sussex University and then became the first student on Malcolm Bradbury’s postgraduate creative writing course at the University of East Anglia.

In 1976, McEwan’s first collection of disturbing short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award, and a second collection of stories, In Between the Sheets, came out in 1978.

The author embarked on his career as a novelist in 1978 with The Cement Garden, and went on to win accolades and industry awards.

He won the Booker Prize for fiction with Amsterdam in 1998 and, in 2001, Atonement was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Novel Award.

The novel, which many critics believe is McEwan’s best to date, picked up the WH Smith Literary Award.

On Chesil Beach won the British Book Awards Book of the Year award in 2007 and Solar won the 2010 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize.

There have been occasions in the author’s life when his personal circumstances changed so dramatically that the events could have been taken from works if fiction. In the late 1990s, the author was involved in a custody battle for his two sons, and in 2007, he was reunited with his long-lost older brother Dave Sharp. He was awarded a CBE in 2000.

* Solar by Ian McEwan is published by Jonathan Cape. And watch this space for news of the Waterstones/Oxford Mail reading club which starts in April