McEwan is, without a doubt, a master of the English language. And this is a technically impressive novel. But it is, ultimately, dull as dishwater. Beard, as a character is pompous, marginally unpleasant, and slightly ludicrous. Above and beyond being unlikable, which makes it hard for the reader to sympathize with him, he is also not entirely believable. It would be one thing to root for his downfall but it is quite another to think with a resigned sigh, "Just get on with it then, will you?" And I know that McEwan is capable of writing characters that stir much stronger emotions but this one just misses the mark. All of the secondary characters are flat and many of them are simply cardboard stereotypes and so the novel rises and falls with the lackluster Michael Beard.
The massive time frame jumps in the story are problematic too. Obviously filling in the gaps would have made for a bloated novel of immense proportion but this pared down version takes away the chance to show Beard as a proactive character. The form asks the reader to believe that an indolent, dismissive character who quails in the face of his wife's lover and whose solution to a major turn up is to furtively frame someone else, has actually rousted up the gumption to set in motion a major scientific undertaking, complete with private equity funding and the like. Credulity only stretches so far. Others have thoroughly thrilled to this latest of McEwan's offerings but I can't help thinking that even the mighty stumble sometimes and this is an instance for him.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of the book.