Solar, by Ian McEwan, Vintage RRP £7.99, 304 pages

Physicist Michael Beard has coasted for two decades on his Nobel prize-winning celebrity, indulging in odd lectures and serial philandering. But with his career in rapid detumescence and his gorgeous wife, Patrice, having an affair with a builder, Beard finds himself in freefall.

The context of Solar – the search for clean energy – is a flimsy proscenium for a turgid drama of sex and compromised integrity. Beard could be a richly flawed character but is instead a grating, sybaritic, smug buffoon devoid of humility or self-reproach, which gives the reader little enduring interest. A string of vignettes with the odd slapstick triumph (such as his penis sticking to his snowsuit after an al fresco arctic micturition) make the novel’s listless plot less than the sum of its parts.

Offering neither breath-taking, cinematic moments nor the psychological unease, obsession, wit and moral responsibility that energise McEwan’s largely impressive canon, Solar remains very light entertainment.

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