I have enjoyed reading Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth and Solar this month. I preferred Sweet Tooth, the story of a Cambridge graduate going to work for MI5, so delicious that I devoured it in one day. Solar, the tale of a Nobel prize winning Physics professor facing a mid-life crisis, was not as gripping but beautifully written and a masterpiece of black humour which made me laugh out loud. Let me paraphrase one episode for you:
The Prof has bought a bag of salt and vinegar crisps to eat on the Heathrow Express. He sits by the window, opposite a young man who has a bottle of water on the table in front of him. The train leaves Heathrow and Prof is looking out of the window, daydreaming. He opens the crisp packet in front of him and puts a crisp in his mouth, enjoying the sharp sensation of the flavours. He then takes two crisps at once and eats them. At this point he sees the young man staring intently at him and reach over to help himself to a crisp. The Prof is outraged and wonders whether the young man is some sort of nutter, thinking it would be best not to confront him if he were mentally unstable. He takes another two crisps. The young man also helps himself to two crisps, chewing them insolently with his mouth open, all the time staring viciously at the Prof. The Prof thinks perhaps he's reached an age where the young can take pleasure in mocking him, after all this man is a thief, no matter how trivial the goods. He looks around the train for moral support but everybody's silently reading their e-mails and newspapers. Nobody has noticed the pyschological drama occurring between the two men. They are simply two passengers sharing a bag of crisps. The Prof wonders if the man's gay and if this is some sort of signal to him. In days gone by, a sign of homosexuality was wearing an earring in one ear, the Prof can't remember which. This man has two earrings in each ear. By this time, there are two crisps left in the bottom of the packet. The young man offers them to the Prof. The Prof shakes his head and looks out of the window. The train is drawing in to Paddington. The Prof decides to take a stance. He seizes the young man's bottle of water and drinks it, replacing the empty container on the table with a flourish. The young man looks at the Prof with pity. He lifts the Prof's luggage down from the rack and puts it in front of him. He then takes his rucksack and gets off the train. The Prof's heart is racing and he's sweating. He decides to wait a few minutes before disembarking as he doesn't want a confrontation with the young man on the platform: he'd have no chance in a fight with him. He gets off the train and walks towards the ticket barrier, reaching into his jacket pocket for his ticket. To his amazement he feels something familiar in his pocket: an unopened bag of salt and vinegar crisps.