Of course the library has heaps of tomes on climate change and you are at liberty to wade your way through them. But I’m talking about fiction that uses the theme of climate change to entertain us and, believe it or not, this unlikely coupling exists. Christchurch Libraries has no fewer than thirteen adult fiction books on this theme and two of them are by authors with serious literary clout:
- Solar – Ian McEwan
- Flight Behavior – Barbara Kingsolver (Yes, we’ve bought the American copy with the funny spelling)
Both these books do the seemingly impossible: they connect the reader to environmental problems through the sexual antics of the main characters. In Solar, Michael Beard is a short, bald, unattractive-looking academic with enormous sexual pull. Don’t say you haven’t met any men like this because I nearly married one, and I don’t believe I’m that unusual. He does the Ecological Conference Circuit presenting papers on his specialisation: wind turbines for domestic use. If you’ve read other McEwan books, prepare to be taken by surprise, as this book is very, very funny.
In Flight Behaviour, Dellarobia is Kingsolver’s main character. She is a feisty young woman who has sexual longings of great intensity for men other than her rather endearing husband. This is not a sexually explicit book, but the yearning, the longing is palpable. She describes her marriage this way:
It’s like I’m standing by the mailbox waiting all the time for a letter. Every day you come along and put something else in there. A socket wrench, or a milkshake. It’s not bad stuff. Just the wrong things for me.
Behind her home on a Tennessee smallholding, a massive colony of butterflies makes an unexpected appearance. This event, and its effect on the small town and Dellarobia, is conveyed absolutely beautifully: God’s Will is given a long leash and then reined ever so subtly in, Science comes out of its corner pulling no punches, and relationships shift before our very eyes. But at heart, this book is a song of praise for education. Dellarobia needed it – desired it even, but her school, her community and her fertility all conspired against her.
So how do these two books differ? In Solar, you learn about Michael Beard through the subject of climate change. In Flight Behaviour, you learn a lot more about the subject of climate change through Dellarobia. I loved them both.