Solar

by Ian McEwan

Hardcover, 2010

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

London : Jonathan Cape, 2010.

Description

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Michael Beard is fast approaching 60, a mere shell of the academic titan he once was. While his fifth marriage falls apart, Michael suddenly finds himself with an unexpected opportunity to reinvigorate his career and possibly save humankind from the growing threat of global warming.

Media reviews

Solar is grappig, slim geschreven en spannend tot op de laatste bladzijde. Een roman om, Beardsgewijs, duimen en vingers bij af te likken.
7 more
Despite the book’s somber, scientific backdrop (and global warming here is little but that), “Solar” is Mr. McEwan’s funniest novel yet — a novel that in tone and affect often reads more like something by Zoë Heller or David Lodge. Like “Amsterdam,” this latest book shows off his gifts as a satirist, but while it gets off to a rollicking start, its plot machinery soon starts to run out of gas, sputtering and stalling as it makes its way from one comic set piece to another.
Solar” is een vermakelijke en bijzonder goed gevulde roman, waarvan ook de wetenschappelijke gedeelten strak en helder geschreven zijn. Ian McEwan weet als zo vaak minutieus realisme en stilistische elegantie met elkaar te verenigen. De vraag die velen zich wel zullen stellen is: waar wil McEwan met zijn lezer naar toe? Er is namelijk slechts één gids: de onbetrouwbare anti-held Michael Beard, “passé” als geleerde maar niet genoeg om hem zo maar van de tafel te vegen. Zijn seksuele en andersoortige geeuwhonger maakt van deze Nobelprijslaureaat wel een karikaturale omkering van wat de nieuwe mens zou moeten zijn en hoe hij zich op een verantwoordelijke wijze tot de aarde en zijn medebewoners zou moeten gedragen.
Lightness, however, comes less easily to McEwan, whose style depends on deliberateness and a certain ponderousness. The ominous lining up of causes and effects and the patient tweaking of narrative tension don't always mesh well with the aimed-for quickness and brio. Some of the humour is quite broad: there's a rather clunking motif concerning polar bears, and Beard gets involved with a stereotypical Southern waitress who's called, in the way of trailer-trash types, Darlene. He emerges as a figure of some comic dynamism, but the pages on his childhood and youth, though brilliantly done, articulate poorly with the knockabout parts of the plot. Once it became clear that the book's world is comic, I also found myself wondering if it wouldn't have benefited from being more loosely assembled, with shorter, discontinuous episodes and Beard functioning along the lines of Updike's Bech, Nabokov's Pnin or the consciousness in Calvino's Cosmicomics.
Beard is as robust and full-fleshed and ebullient a character as McEwan has come up with. And in Solar, he shows a side to himself as a writer — a puckishness, a broadness of humour, an extravagance of style — that we haven’t seen before.
But as this is McEwan, the laughs fade away. The denouement of Solar in sunny New Mexico is not predictable but is predictably bleak, and my only reservation about the novel is that the end is a bit of a jolt, the brakes are applied rather forcefully. But perhaps this is because McEwan is planning Solar II. I hope so because I rather like Michael Beard.
According to the perverse aesthetics of artistic guilty pleasure, certain books and movies are so bad — so crudely conceived, despicably motivated and atrociously executed — that they’re actually rather good. “Solar,” the new novel by Ian McEwan, is just the opposite: a book so good — so ingeniously designed, irreproachably high-minded and skillfully brought off — that it’s actually quite bad. Instead of being awful yet absorbing, it’s impeccable yet numbing, achieving the sort of superbly wrought inertia of a Romanesque cathedral. There’s so little wrong with it that there’s nothing particularly right about it, either. It’s impressive to behold but something of a virtuous pain to read.
McEwan writes sentences of such witty elegance that the loss of John Updike seems a little easier to bear. But as a whole, this comedy about a venal scientist never generates the tension one expects from the Booker Prize-winning author of "Amsterdam" and "Atonement."

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
Ian McEwan does it again! Solar is a hilarious, intellectual romp for our times. It's a satire that aims its shots in many directions: at the narrow worlds of academia and scientific research; at the New Age/hug-a-tree/love-can-save-the-world philosophy; at the idealism of the young and the cynicism of their elders; at the wheeling and dealing behind corporate American enterprise; at the inexplicable nature of love and its counterpart, lust.

Michael Beard, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, has been sitting on his laurels for years, working half-heartedly for a British energy center that sees wind energy as the future, spending more time mocking the "ponytails" (the young post-grad physicists who work under him) than developing new theories or resources. In his spare time, Beard has lumbered his way through five marriages and numerous affairs, and his penchant for alcohol, beef, pancakes, and crisps have added more weight to his physical profile than his professional one.

But then things start to happen--call them accidents or fate or coincidences, or just plain old opportunities. And Michael Beard is there to pick up the pieces and use them to his best advantage.

A few of the reviews already posted tell, I think, way too much and spoil the surprises to come for future readers. I'll only say that I knew how dark McEwan could be, but I had no idea that he could be quite so funny. Several of the scenes, including the one on the Paddington train alluded to by others, had me actually laughing out loud.

I listened to the audiobook and was delighted to find an interview of McEwan by his editor at the end. In it, he discussed his research process (which included not only reading about global warming and renewable energy but an extended stay in New Mexico and an arctic trip with a group of artists and scientists) and the fact that he has already been approached by a number of physicists who claim they know upon whom he based the character of Beard (he claims it was his own creation, but that it's probably a "good thing" there are so many likely Beards out there rather than just one).

Overall, Solar is a smart, funny, and perceptive novel about our times, and I highly recommend it. Don't expect it to be another Atonement or On Chesil Beach; McEwan is attempting something entirely different here, and you will have to be willing to take it on its own terms.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. These are the seven deadly sins, and Michael Beard, the main character of Ian McEwan’s latest book, Solar, possesses every single one of them.

Michael peaked early in his career as a physicist, winning the Nobel Prize in his twenties. Nearly three decades later, he has five failed marriages, a lackluster career and a growing waistline. As his fifth wife began to end their marriage, it was a wake-up call that Michael was squandering his talents.Through less-than-ethical means, he became inspired to save the world from its energy crisis, creating an artificial photosynthesis process that would forever put his name in the annals of great physicists.

What happens when such deeply flawed characters try to do great things? Many rise to the occasion, learn how to be a better person and cherish all that life has to offer. Others, like Michael, drown in their flaws. Michael was always one step away from total destruction, and it was taking its toll on his health, love life and intellect. By the novel’s end, Michael’s world was imploding, leaving the reader shaking her head and contemplating why Michael did not rise above his vices.

Solar, at its heart, was a satirical novel, full of deeply humorous scenes. For certain, Michael was all human, bumbling through life and entrenched in situations that will make most readers laugh out loud. However, his deep flaws (adultery, framing someone for murder, stealing from another scientist, lying, overeating, drinking too much) make it hard to like Michael. In the end, he got what was coming to him.

Fans of Ian McEwan may be surprised with his latest book. Solar resembles Amsterdam more than Atonement. Like all of McEwan’s books, the writing was superb and the characterization was spot on. The plot did bog down with the scientific tangents (especially if you have a hard time following science), but through Michael’s antics, McEwan lifts you back into the plot – and into the life of the energy crisis’s greatest anti-hero, Michael Beard.
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
Ah, McEwan. I just love this writer. Every book is so different that you start them in perfect anticipation of what he'll throw at you this time.

Solar was a great read, possibly one of the funniest of McEwan's that I've read so far. The protagonist is scientist Professor Beard, Nobel Prize Winner, womaniser, egotist and general all round self-indulgent pig. He's a great character - super smart and super dumb in equal measures, a loathsome sloth of a man who rides his professional and personal life largely on the back of his Nobel win. Oftentimes he reminded me of an academic version of John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom, another brilliantly flawed character who is one of my all-time favourites.

I always find it very difficult to review a McEwan book as I never want to give too much of the plot away. It's suffice to say that in Solar Beard's professional and personal lives collide in some very unexpected ways which are in turn toe-curlingly embarrassing, laugh out loud funny and page turningly brilliant. A great mix of comedy and tension, and thoroughly enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member karieh
I know that I will be vilified for my review of this book… Those readers, like me, that have read all or most of Ian McEwan’s books probably have high expectation for his newest work. As simply and as respectfully as I can, I have to say that I don’t think “Solar” is worthy of this talented author.

The plotline is disconcerting…beginning with the introduction of the main character, Michael Beard. He is an incredibly unlikable character…but not SO much so that the reader could love to hate him. He doesn’t have a strong enough personality for that. He’s a gluttonous, unfaithful, shallow slob of a man that somehow won a Nobel Prize once upon a time. (And the longer this book goes on, the harder that is to believe.) He is a man that usually cares very little for other people, (“He was suffused with the pleasant illusion of liking people,”) but he finds himself realizing that he’s obsessed with his fifth wife, who, upon finding out about Michael’s rampant infidelity, announces that she is having an affair as well. The shoe being on the other foot for once…Michael can’t stop thinking about her and how much her affair bothers him.

AND THEN…on page 62 – this book completely jumped the shark for me. I won’t go into details (because there are more than enough of them in the book) – but an incident happens that had me rolling my eyes in irritation and disbelief. Michael Beard gives a new definition to the word cuckold, let’s just go with that.

Beard is a character that is all too believable but who just doesn’t seem to have a point.
The strongest feelings he seems to have are about food and his slightly nauseating relationship with it.

“He was not at that moment truly hungry, but he was, in his own term, pre-hungry. That is, he could appreciate how pleasurable it might be, in less than an hour, to lift a few of those items onto a plate and contemplate the river while he ate. And just as easily, he could anticipate the regret he would feel if the dishes were removed too soon, when the afternoon tea break came to an end, which it must do when his talk began. Safer to eat a few now.”

The reader is given no way to reconcile the storyline about his personal life before the story switched gears to start focusing on the global problem of climate change. Nothing in Beard’s life ever gets reconciled…he just drifts along until something happens to either cause a different problem or the problem is not longer relevant. “Beard was generally adept at avoiding inconvenient or troubling thoughts…”

I kept trying to decide if Beard is supposed to represent the deniers of climate change, or those who refused to take action on the problem or think about the future. Maybe? But then his work trying to solve that problem doesn’t seem to fit. (True, his work on the subject doesn’t come from any concern of his own, and true to form, he sort of stumbles into the research…)

I just can’t figure out what the message of this book is supposed to be. There’s just nothing strong enough in this book to latch on to. (Unless you count Michael’s passion for salt and vinegar crisps.)

Again, I know that this review will be met with angry protest from Ian McEwan fans…but as one myself, I was just very disappointed by this offering from such a talented writer.
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LibraryThing member suetu
Is it possible to write a likeable book about an unlikeable character?

I believe the answer to the question above is, "Yes." Others will disagree. For this reason, I expect Ian McEwan's latest, Solar, to be a polarizing novel. On the one hand, you've got Mr. McEwan's considerable literary talent. On the other hand, you've got an unlikable protagonist, a whole lot of physics, and a comic novel. And if there's anything more subjective than humor, I don't know what it is.

Solar is a satirical look at the life of Nobel Laureate in Physics, Michael Beard. As the novel opens, 50-something Michael is married to 30-something Patrice. This, his fifth marriage, is on the rocks and his brightest, most promising days are long behind him. While the reader will want to find redeeming qualities in Michael, his character follows a trajectory from ridiculous to reprehensible to repugnant. "He was sufficient, self-absorbed, his mind a cluster of appetites and dreamy thoughts. Like many clever men who prize objectivity, he was a solipsist at heart, and in his heart was a nugget of ice..."

McEwan is smart in the way he relays the story. It's told episodically, opening in 2000, then jumping ahead to 2005, and finally to 2009. This draws the reader in. What has happened since we've seen Michael last? What are the repercussions of his behavior? Has he learned any lessons? Is he a better person? I would begin each section full of these questions and eager for answers.

So, can you write a likeable book about an unlikeable character? I found myself reflecting on John Kenney Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces and its unlikely hero, Ignatius J. Reilly. Michael Beard, while less of a complete buffoon, is not cut from entirely different cloth. Readers who can laugh at his foibles and maintain at least some empathy will enjoy this novel the most.

The other thing I mentioned above is physics. It's Michael's career, and McEwan doesn't shy away from what will be challenging territory for some readers. Think of it as a foreign language. When I read The Yiddish Policeman's Union, I found myself wondering how readers with no grasp of Yiddish would handle the book. As it turns out, they handled it just fine. I am fortunate to have a reasonable working vocabulary in both Yiddish and physics; consequently my enjoyment of these novels was merely enhanced. Like Chabon, McEwan isn't talking down to his readers. There is no unnecessary exposition. McEwan has given his unlikeable character some very admirable skills and placed him in a position to do good on a grand scale. Can that redeem him?

Solar is social commentary. And it is a novel of ideas. It's the type of comedy that feels slightly mean and not always that funny. Throughout the novel, Michael Beard has set a lot in motion. The ending of the novel was what it HAD to be. Some readers won't appreciate this work. Others will hate how it ends. Ultimately, for me, the joy of reading McEwan's prose, of following his flawed character, and of seeing where the story would take me made this odyssey a pleasure.
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LibraryThing member juliejb9
Beautifully written as always. Real toad of a main character at whom you have to laugh or just despise. Chewy bits of science: Beard-Einstein conflation, artificial photosynthesis. You can't help but turn thoughtful about climate change. I still can't believe he got away with using the real Nobel Laureate's name in a work of fiction.… (more)
LibraryThing member philipspires
Usually – if such a word can be applied to rare events – Nobel Laureates are recognised towards the end of a lifetime’s achievement. The true significance of work has to be established before it can be recognised. Michael Beard, modifier of Einstein’s photovoltaics, producer of the Beard-Einstein Conflation, or should that have been the Einstein-Beard Conflation, seemed to receive his ultimate recognition a tad early in life. Surely it would have been the proposed grand application of his work that swayed the judges rather than the mere realisation of theory. So if there is to be a criticism of Ian McEwan’s novel, Solar, it is precisely this. But then Michael Beard always was a precocious winner, after coming first in a beautiful baby award. So there.

This is my only criticism of Solar. I thought that Ian McEwan would never write anything to challenge the intensity, complexity, ease of expression and irony of Saturday. But Solar achieves all of this and much more.

In his professional life, Michael Beard is a scientist, a physicist with an interest in light. Energy becomes his focus and, via his photovoltaic conflation, he begins to address energy production for a warming planet. Or does he? Does he receive rather than initiate? And does he acknowledge?

Both meticulous and precise in his professional guise, Michael Beard is a sybaritic, lecherous slob in the private domain. We meet him first upon his fifth wife, Patrice. With her he has at last found happiness – at least when they are together. Periods apart find him pursuing anything available before or after a half a bottle of Scotch. Unknown to him, Patrice is doing precisely the same, but remaining sober. From Michael Beard’s conventionally misogynist standpoint, this seems unfair and he calls foul.

Aldous is just the sort of bloke that – all things being equal (which of course they are not!) – Michael Beard would both ignore and avoid. He’s big, hefty, wears sandals and a pony tail. His apparently laid back approach to life is surely anathema to Michael Beard’s internally perceived order. After all, didn’t a youthful Beard sport a jacket and tie with pens in the top pocket right through the 1960s? How times change, he might reflect, on pushing aside a pile of unwashed dishes mixed with general detritus in his London flat. But besides threatening, Aldous is also brilliant. He is a young post-doc recruited to assist Michael’s research. And then there’s Tarpin, a builder decidedly not of the same social class as the venerable academic. Things come together at the end of the book’s first part. Suffice it to say that Michael Beard’s involuntary circumcision at the hands of frost while taking a leak somewhere near Spitzbergen might just have been Mother Nature getting her own back, her feminist equaliser before the stronger opposition has even scored.

Unfortunately for Michael Beard, however, his tendency to spread himself too thinly provokes the termination of his Government-sponsored energy research. The director, Braby, sacks him, an act that injures pride. Michael internalises the rejection not as a failure but as an opportunity, given his multiple avenues of interest. How can it offend him? He’s won a Nobel Prize. Can’t he do precisely what he wants, even beyond criticism?

Beard is confronted with alternative views of both life and the universe. Everything follows. Later he is apparently committed to just one woman, Melissa, but without marriage, mutually-agreed. But he is constantly pulled elsewhere. His logical-positivist assumptions are questioned, both at home and abroad. People can lie, deconstruct, reconstruct. So can he. The only consistency in his personal life is its inconsistency, constantly inconsistent. But his professional assumptions are questioned by social constructivism, by phenomenological attack on the universality he assumes. The consequence is an irrational but wholly real reconstruction of a reality he thought he had both defined and described. His method of coping is enigmatic and inventive, but its public expression is totally uncontrolled, misconceived.

Michael’s research points to a breakthrough in energy production. He can split water using sunlight and catalysts that promote artificial photosynthesis. He can truly harness the sun. Perhaps it vies for the centre of his universe. The results can burn carbon-free to power the world. His new daughter calls him a saviour. But his business brain shares his scientific nodes. He has patents. He hires Hammer to deal with detail, a task he accomplishes supremely until just before the scheduled switch on of the prototype in the New Mexico desert. The rest is history.

Solar presents a multiplicity of themes. But I think its main plank is an age-old conundrum. In an address presenting the Nobel Prize to Beard, a professor refers to Feynman’s illustration of the elegance of Beard’s Conflation. Tangled, knotted strings that dancers further complicate can, under the right conditions, with the right foresight, fall to a simple untangled simplicity with a single tug. Thus Beard had taken a knotted intellectual theory and let it fall free of its complications.

In his private life, however, Beard truly found complication. What was simple he knotted by quirk, by over-indulgence, by ill-discipline and by visceral opportunity. If the beautiful but independently-minded Melissa was temporarily unavailable across an ocean that provided the vacuum, then the fiftyish, flabby Darlene, a waitress in a New Mexico diner, provided the pressure. But she took her temporary role seriously, an attitude that Michael Beard never expected.

No matter how complicated our lives become, no matter how intertwined, no matter how independently we present identity, career, research or discovery, ultimately they all reduce to a simple cocktail of body fluids, desires – usually only partly fulfilled - and ultimately a resort to self-preservation, a fundamental state that can be obscured by our relentless pursuit of receding detail. Thus Ian McEwan presents a contrast between potentially enduring rationality that seeks out permanence and base, immediate desire driven by instincts we cannot even recognise, let alone control. At the last, it is illusory permanence that presents the true delusion. And what about constancy and the enduringly rational? Ask me tomorrow.
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LibraryThing member fig2
Ian McEwan's latest offering, Solar, is a departure from his serious side. The main character, Professor Michael Beard, is an aging, pompous and ridiculous Nobel-winning physicist who is far past his prime.

Solar is a character study, and the character is an unlikeable one. Yet, as unpleasant as Beard is, he somehow manages to make the reader feel for him. Duplicitous, self-obsessed, arrogant and greedy, he is one messed up fellow who sits comfortably on the laurels of his discovery many, many years previous. Why, then, are we so interested in his life? McEwan's skill is the only answer. The novel follows Beard as he untangles himself from his messy fifth marriage, engineers a new career path (while saving the world and winning praise and money), both pursues and avoids relationships, and ends up the sole witness to a bizarre death.

McEwan can do serious, tragic, obsessive, morbid and poignant better than most writers, but it is a delightful surprise to discover that he can do humor as well. Michael Beard is one of the funnies characters I've ever come across, and the laughs are mostly at his expense, which somehow doesn't make you despise him.

I can only thank Ian McEwan for this wonderful, surprising, delightful book that somehow is exceedingly deeper than it appears on it surface.
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LibraryThing member roblong
Finished this a week ago, and struggling to say much about it. There are McEwan books I love (Cement Garden, Atonement) and those I hate (Amsterdam, Saturday), but this is hard to get worked up about either way. There are some dramatic bits, some quite funny bits, both some shades of good past work and the over-written, in love with his research crap stuff. My main problem is that the positives never worked together well enough to be more than the sum of their parts - there were good ideas, and it's a feat to get a readable novel out of a dry topic like climate change (without sensationalising it, anyway) - but the good scenes never amounted to something really worthwhile. In summary, not bad, but not very memorable either.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sararush
Solar is called "the literary event of the spring ion the back page of the advanced edition which is further evidence that expectations are running unchecked for Ian McEwan's latest. And after being deceived by Briony in Atonement, and shocked at the turn a long-time friendship takes in Amsterdam (two novels that still rate with me years after I've finished them), I too, could not wait to grab this book.

McEwan portrays a Nobel Prize genius past his prime, Michael Beard, who struggles to hold his marriage together. He has just come to realize that his fifth wife is the love of his life as she is gearing up to leave him. And although he has coasted his entire life on his youthful brilliance, he is also beginning to worry he is becoming irrelevant in the ever advancing world of Physics. Nothing short of saving the world from apocalyptic climate change can possibly revitalize his existence, and the key to that may have fallen at his feet.

Of course, I found the first part of this book, Beard's domestic drama far more engrossing then the subsequent parts where I felt the novel began to lose steam and the reader just short of waited for the inevitable. Still I can't think of anyone but McEwan who could inspire me to pick up a book detailing high level physics and global climate politics. While not my favorite McEwan, it won't disappoint his clamoring fans, and is likely to become, well, the literary event of the summer.
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Michael Beard is a Nobel prize winning physicist who has been coasting ever since his "Beard Conflation" enlarged on Einstein's theory. He hasn't kept up with current research or even done any himself since that breakthrough, simply lending his name to boards and scientific institutions and slouching through his life. When the novel opens, his fifth marriage is failing and he is so pre-occupied with the affair his wife is having (after he's had countless of his own) that he ignores the young men, dubbed "the ponytails", working under him, swatting at one in particular, who pesters him about the sustainability of solar power as being the future over the wind power Beard himself had off-handedly once mentioned and is now the focus of a large governmental institution as a result. The surprising way in which Beard comes around to accepting the importance of solar power through the years after the open of the novel, whose shoulders he stands on, whom he tramples, and how poorly he behaves in general is the central focus of this novel. But there are many divagations leading up to the not so terribly surprising denouement.

McEwan is, without a doubt, a master of the English language. And this is a technically impressive novel. But it is, ultimately, dull as dishwater. Beard, as a character is pompous, marginally unpleasant, and slightly ludicrous. Above and beyond being unlikable, which makes it hard for the reader to sympathize with him, he is also not entirely believable. It would be one thing to root for his downfall but it is quite another to think with a resigned sigh, "Just get on with it then, will you?" And I know that McEwan is capable of writing characters that stir much stronger emotions but this one just misses the mark. All of the secondary characters are flat and many of them are simply cardboard stereotypes and so the novel rises and falls with the lackluster Michael Beard.

The massive time frame jumps in the story are problematic too. Obviously filling in the gaps would have made for a bloated novel of immense proportion but this pared down version takes away the chance to show Beard as a proactive character. The form asks the reader to believe that an indolent, dismissive character who quails in the face of his wife's lover and whose solution to a major turn up is to furtively frame someone else, has actually rousted up the gumption to set in motion a major scientific undertaking, complete with private equity funding and the like. Credulity only stretches so far. Others have thoroughly thrilled to this latest of McEwan's offerings but I can't help thinking that even the mighty stumble sometimes and this is an instance for him.
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LibraryThing member PAPatrick
So NOT "Atonement". Or even "Saturday". McEwen's attempt at the anti-hero is not appealing to this reader/
LibraryThing member Milda-TX
Painfully pathetic, totally unlikeable Nobel Prize winner's predicaments made me laugh out loud. Loved the writing. Skip over the science-y parts if you need to - the plot moves on anyway.
LibraryThing member nyiper
My brain couldn't quite keep up with the physics but oh dear me the story of Michael Beard----what a character to behold!! There are a few incredible laugh out loud pieces---almost place holders in Beard's life and then you reach the moment when everything sort of comes to pass and there is Beard---seeing everything come at him at once. Can you like Beard and/or sympathize in any way with his character? He is such a beautifully crafted character---and listening to him speak, in the audio by Roger Allam, is truly wonderful.… (more)
LibraryThing member bragan
A novel about the train wreckishly messy personal and professional life of Michael Beard, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist currently working on renewable energy and the struggle to halt global warming. Beard is easily the most unlikeable protagonist I've encountered in ages... and not in a fascinating-but-flawed or fun character-you-love-to-hate kind of way, either. He's a rotten husband, a piss-poor excuse for a human being and, despite the accomplishments of his youth, kind of a crappy scientist, to boot. He's not the sort of person whose company I'd enjoy spending time at all in, never mind spending an entire novel's worth of time in his head, and every time I started to feel any sympathy for him, he'd prove to me all over again just what a colossal schmuck he was. And yet, somehow, McEwan kept me turning pages, interested to see more of this man's story. I find this quite impressive.

I think it helps a great deal that Beard, in all his faults, feels very much like a real person. There was a danger here that he might have come across as a simplistic stereotype: the cold, detached, egotistical scientist with no capacity for human feeling. But even if that description fits him well enough, he doesn't feel like a stereotype. He's far too three-dimensional a character for that. And McEwan, far from displaying the hostility or ignorance towards science that usually goes with that particular stereotype, appears to have an amazingly good grasp of the philosophy of science and of how real physicists think. He also displays an excellent understanding of human psychology, and of the ways in which even those who value and strive for objectivity are subject to denial, irrationality, and the ability to remember only what we want to remember and believe what we wish to believe. (The relevance of this to global warming, pleasingly, is left as an exercise for the reader.)
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LibraryThing member marient
Kind of strange to read.l Michael Beard is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his nameto the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions, and halfheartedly heads a govenment backed initiative tackling global warming. While he coas idly in his professional life, his personal life is another matter. A compulsive womanizer, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. A story of one man's greed and self-deception.… (more)
LibraryThing member Tanya-dogearedcopy
Solar
by Ian McEwan
narrated by Roger Allam
(P) 2010, Recorded Books
11 hours, 50 minutes
(includes interview between the author and his editor)

This isn’t so much a review as it is a witness testimony, not like on a court stand, but more like what you might see and hear at a religious revival! I admit that, in the past , I have committed the literary sin of not “getting” Ian McEwan. I read On Chesil Beach and Saturday with due diligence and lit-fic sobriety. In doing so, I was underwhelmed by the prose and declared McEwan “overrated” in rendering the psychological thriller to nothing more than a Tale of Anxiety (and at that, of a white older male anxiety!)

Then, I saw the light. Someone here on LT (and I'm sorry I cannot remember who!) mentioned that they had heard Ian McEwan read an excerpt from On Chesil Beach out loud with comic flair! And that the audience was not only enthralled, but laughing along with him! Hmmm, perhaps if I hadn’t dismissed my own sense of humour and replaced it with self-righteous literary pretensions, I might have enjoyed On Chesil Beach, and come to think of it, Saturday more than I had. With that in mind, I picked up Solar which I had heard was supposed to be pretty funny. Admittedly, I had also heard that this was not McEwan’s best and, as a validation of that opinion, it was not nominated for a ManBooker award. So it kind of figures, considering the high rate of ironic incidences in my life, that the McEwan that no one seems to like is the one that I absolutely adore!

The story features Michael Beard, a Nobel laureate who, when we meet him in his early fifties, is wallowing around in the collapse of his fifth marriage, a deteriorating body, and work in physics that is neither intellectually stimulating nor rewarding. The whole of Solar takes place over the course of about ten years (1999-2009) in which we watch Michael Beard muck his way around and through relationships, work and his health, always holding onto the promise of the next chapter in his life. It would be very easy to attach a lot of symbolic import to various artifices in the novel; but after listening to the interview of the author with his editor, you realize that, in doing so, you would be projecting too much into the novel. It is what it is and; what it is is a very honest portrayal of a man with all the absurdist elements that that may imply. Perhaps those who don’t like this novel don’t want to acknowledge that Michael Beard is very much an Everyman and, by default themselves; but I found common cause with the character for being flawed. Rather than finding Michael Beard an unlikable character, I was morbidly fascinated with his ability to have gotten as far as he had. I often found myself cheering for Michael even while admitting that he brought on most of his problems himself.

Roger Allam is a British narrator who delivered Ian McEwan’s novel flawlessly. The production uses British pronunciations, which may sound awkward to American ears, but it does not interfere with the understanding or enjoyment of the story. Allam reads the book “straight,” without comic intonations and also without dropping into the deadly neutral zone :-)

I loved Solar and I can’t wait to read McEwan’s next novel!
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LibraryThing member jayne_charles
I was taken aback by the humour in this - you can pretty much rely on Ian McEwan to deliver something satisfyingly literary with the odd titter, but this - at least the first part of it - was full-on hilarious. Reading it in a public place, I was in danger of choking on suppressed laughter. There was a lot of quite dense physics stuff too, but when you add in the slapstick and calculate the arithmetical mean it ends up bang on the funny bone.

You could at a pinch read the first section as a stand-alone story, and not bother with the rest - anyone finding the physics bits heavy going might be well advised to do that. The second and third sections are denser, heavier on the physics, and less funny. If you are Ian McEwan you can get away with things other people can't - like including long speeches word for word, and including plot events which appear to have been lifted wholesale from Jeffrey Archer (Jeffrey Archer!!) and which weren't even original when Jeffrey used them. Then, after letting your public think the less of you for several pages, admitting via a character that you did lift them from Archer and they weren't original when he used them etc etc. Either brave, daft, or meaningful in ways I can't discern. Either way, I'm glad I ploughed through to the end. You always come out of his novels with more knowledge than you started, and this one had a playfulness about it that made it probably my favourite by him so far.
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LibraryThing member bhowell
Fabulous! I absolutely loved Solar. Prize winning physicist, Michael Beard, whose brilliant work as a young man has given him a sufficient reputation to rest on his laurels, stumbles through late middle age. His private life is chaos, but so amusing. I was reminded a bit of "Therapy" by David Lodge, but this is Ian McEwan and the action never stops.
Before I read Solar I read the review in The New York Times Book Review which described the book as so good that it is bad but in it's description of the tale, it dwelt almost lovingly on the nature of the writing and I found myself shivering with delightful anticipation. I almost tossed the book I was reading to dive right in to Solar.
By way of disclosure I should add that I am a dedicated fan of McEwan and have read everything that he has ever written.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
The main character is one Michael Beard, who once won the Nobel Prize in physics. The book starts out with Beard's current trouble in his fifth marriage, and his own growing realization that over the last 20 years he has been fresh out of original ideas and that he no longer had the "will, the material,...the spark" he once had in the scientific field. Now he's content to accept money for serving on this or that committee, or to make speeches, or lend his name -- basically to live off of his Nobel Prize fame. Ever in search of the stipend his name would bring him, he signs on with the Centre, an institution largely created by the government to make it seem as though Britain cared more than just rhetorically about environmental change and the search for new and renewable energy sources. Personally, Beard didn't believe in the "air of plague-of-boils and deluge-of-frogs" hysteria regarding global warming and its dire consequences, but he took the position anyway. It is here that he meets Tom Aldous, a young scientist, whose entanglement in Beard's life will have some rather bizarre consequences that culminate in the desert of New Mexico.

Beard's character is very unsympathetic and definitely anti-heroic. He does "not believe in profound inner change," makes the same mistakes over and over again with women, and is balding, fat, and generally prone to letting himself go. From the very beginning you get the sense that nothing good could ever happen to this guy.

I enjoyed discovering McEwan's satirical & comic side -- especially as he was describing the various groups with whom Beard interacted throughout the novel. For example, in speaking about how "climate change was consuming Tom Aldous," the author explained that what Beard "disliked about political people" was that "injustice and calamity animated them, it was their milk, their lifeblood, it pleasured them." Everyone knows someone like this. And there were also the trendy artists who get together to figure out what they can do to help save the world, while all of the time they're doing absolutely nothing. Then there's Beard's interactions with the academic community, the scientific community, governments, the world of finance -- nothing and no one is sacred here. It's almost like everyone talks a good game about stopping global warming and finding new and renewable sources of energy, but actually doing is a different matter.

This book may not be representative of the work with which McEwan's readers are familiar, but it's still good. It's definitely satirical, sometimes very funny, but yet at the same time, serious when it needs to be. It isn't as tightly woven as his other work, and I thought the ending was a bit on the farcical side, but overall, I would highly recommend it. You should know ahead of time that you're not getting something along the lines of say, Atonement, but you're getting an entirely different side of this author that you haven't seen before. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
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LibraryThing member booksinthebelfry
I'm afraid I have to agree with Walter Kirn's review of this book in the NYTBR, in which he asserts that Solar is so good, it's bad. McEwan's writing, as always, is technically perfect and there are more than occasional flashes of brilliant insight and mordant wit, but all the highly polished individual elements somehow don't quite add up to a convincing or satisfying whole. Michael Beard's foibles are neither charmingly eccentric nor compellingly sinister, and the book reads less like a novel than a series of set pieces lined up to illustrate a screed about the current state of the world. McEwan's fearsome intellect being what it is, his observations and opinions are well worth reading, but perhaps they would have found better expression in another form.… (more)
LibraryThing member pam.furney
I wanted to slap the main character! Is that a sign of a good writer, that one engages so totally? I did not enjoy this book, even though it is well written in Ian McEwan's inevitable style.
LibraryThing member Marlissa
I listened to the audio version of this book. It suffers from many of the things that usually leave me kind of meh about modern fiction. First: unlikable, self-absorbed main character. Second: the story is driven by the main character's selfish actions -- there would be no story if the character wasn't such an ass. BUT "Solar" is rescued to a large degree by the underlying subject matter of global climate change, and the science and politics surrounding it. AND, of course, the writing is superb and expertly captures those small, but defining details that make a book memorable. In some ways, the book captures scientific politics and relationships well, but I had trouble believing that this absolute jerk of a Nobel Laureate in physics ever had the curiosity, let alone the obsessive work ethic that it takes to have achieved anything of note in his life.

Oh, and I'd like to add that I was surprised to learn that "Solar" is considered a "comic" novel. While there are some funny moments, it really is not a comic book in my view.
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LibraryThing member saitchy
This took my by surprise, a brilliantly dark, sometimes laugh out loud funny, comic novel.
LibraryThing member thermat
Solar seemed only about character development. Page after page, chapter after chapter, the author developed an image of the main character that persisted through out the book. Unfortunately, even though the book kept my interest through the ending, the story was uneventful and boring.

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