Bestselling, and Booker prize winning novelist, Ian McEwan talks about his forthcoming novel on climate change in McEwan’s novel take on climate change:
“It took me a long time to find a way into this subject – I’ve been thinking about it for a number of years,” he says. “And then I spent some time in the Arctic, with a group of artists and scientists; we were living on a boat that was frozen in a fjord. One of the things that struck me about that was there was a sort of boot room, and one of the iron rules of this boat was we had to take off all our outer clothing – boots, goggles, balaclava, skidoo suits – and over the week, the chaos of this boot room grew more and more intense.”
These eminent inhabitants of the Cape Farewell project’s vessel the Noorderlicht began to decline into a kind of genteel chaos. Someone mislaid his boots and, not wishing to delay the departure of a party itching to head out on an exploration, grabbed the nearest pair of a similar size he could find. A domino-effect of similar “borrowings” ensued. Good people, McEwan wrote at the Time (this was March 2005), were impelled to take what was not their own: “With the eighth Commandment broken, the social contract is ruptured too. No one is behaving particularly badly, and certainly everybody is being, in the immediate circumstances, entirely rational, but by the third day, the boot room is a wasteland of broken dreams.”
“I thought ‘well, this is a highly self-selected group of climate change people’,” he says now. “In the evenings we were discussing how to save the planet, and a few feet away through a bulkhead was this utter chaos! And I thought ‘that’s perfect, that’s the human angle on this that I want’. If one thinks of literature and novels in particular as investigations of human nature, then human nature suddenly became at the centre of our problem about climate change: that we’re sort of cooperative but selfish, we’re not used to thinking in long-term eras beyond our own lifespans or immediate spans of interest.
“So I devised a character into whom I poured many, many faults. He’s devious, he lies, he’s predatory in relation to women; he steadily gets fatter through the novel. He’s a sort of planet, I guess. He makes endless reforming decisions about himself: Rio, Kyoto-type assertions of future virtue that lead nowhere.”