Michael Beard is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose spark of genius has long since gone out.
He works, without conviction, at a Centre for Renewable Energy, his own energies devoted to philandering, gluttony and agonising over the parlous state of his fifth marriage. Things change after he confronts his wife's lover, and an employee at the Centre discovers a new way of tapping solar energy.
The plotting, as ever with Ian McEwan, is expert – full of unexpected events and brilliant set-pieces. Beard is a marvellous comic creation, unprincipled and entirely at the mercy of his own appetites, yet strangely sympathetic. As funny as William Boyd's Stars and Bars, this is fine dining that demands to be gobbled down like fast food.