Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan.
Photo: Eamon McCabe

Booker Prize-winning British novelist Ian McEwan, now best known for Atonement, is at work on a new novel about climate change that will include “extended comic stretches,” The Guardian reports. The unnamed work isn’t due out for another two years, but McEwan read an excerpt to an audience in Wales on Sunday.

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The protagonist of the forthcoming novel is Nobel Prize-winning physicist Michael Beard, who aspires to save the planet, and also fights a more mundane battle against his food cravings. Reports The Guardian‘s Judith Soal:

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[McEwan] said he had wanted to tackle climate change for several years, but had struggled to find a way to begin.

The impetus for this novel came in 2005 when he was part of an expedition of artists and scientists who spent several weeks aboard a ship near the North Pole.

“While I was on board I soon realized that the boot room, where we all changed our clothing and left our shoes, had turned into a scene of social chaos,” McEwan said, describing how the eminent scientists, who were gathering down the hall to talk earnestly about the future of humankind, were also capable of stealing each others’ footwear and regarding their colleagues with deep distrust.

“I realized that it’s all about human nature. The way to write about climate change is through writing about human nature.”

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In 2006, McEwan had to defend himself from accusations of plagiarizing an account of a nurse in a wartime hospital — even though he had acknowledged the writer in an author’s note at the end of Atonement and had publicly credited her as an inspiration for part of his novel.

At the Sunday reading from his new novel, an audience member pointed out the similarity between a scene McEwan read out loud and a scene in Douglas Adams’ So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, the fourth novel in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Perhaps for his new work, McEwan will crib some choice phrasings from Al Gore (with proper footnotes, of course). A surefire way to add funny.