Sublime white wastes … Rachel Whiteread’s Embankment in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Photograph: David Levene

Ian McEwan’s novel Solar is an allegory of entropy and the death of the planet, an eco-comedy, a dark meditation on how human failings make it unlikely that we will act on global warming. But it also has some jokes about contemporary British art.

The most sustained and hilarious episode in Solar tells how its bad-scientist antihero goes on a fact-finding trip to the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen to see the melting of the Arctic for himself. This journey to the frozen north is brilliantly imagined, with all the hallucinatory visual conviction that made McEwan’s early short stories so shocking. You are there, and when an unfortunate incident results from the character’s attempt to pee in sub-zero conditions (don’t keep it out too long!), it’s as bizarrely gripping as anything he has ever written.


Jonathan Jones