Solar

Solar

by Ian McEwan

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Overview

A best-selling work of wit from the Booker Prize-winning author, Solar brilliantly traces the arc of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist’s ambitions and self-deception.

Dr. Michael Beard’s best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions, and halfheartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. Meanwhile, Michael’s fifth marriage is floundering due to his incessant womanizing. When his professional and personal worlds collide in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself for Michael to extricate himself from his marital problems, reinvigorate his career, and save the world from environmental disaster. But can a man who has made a mess of his life clean up the messes of humanity? 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307739537
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/08/2011
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 205,123
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of seventeen books, including the novels NutshellThe Children ActSweet ToothSolar, winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize; On Chesil BeachSaturdayAtonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award; The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both short-listed for the Booker Prize; Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize; and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award; as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets.

Hometown:

Oxford, England

Date of Birth:

June 21, 1948

Place of Birth:

Aldershot, England

Education:

B.A., University of Sussex, 1970; M.A., University of East Anglia, 1971

Read an Excerpt

 
      He belonged to that class of men—vaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat, clever—who were unaccountably attractive to certain beautiful women. Or he believed he was, and thinking seemed to make it so. And it helped that some women believed he was a genius in need of rescue. But the Michael Beard of this time was a man of narrowed mental condition, anhedonic, monothematic, stricken. His fifth marriage was disintegrating, and he should have known how to behave, how to take the long view, how to take the blame. Weren’t marriages, his marriages, tidal, with one rolling out just before another rolled in? But this one was different. He did not know how to behave, long views pained him, and for once there was no blame for him to assume, as he saw it. It was his wife who was hav­ing the affair, and having it flagrantly, punitively, certainly without remorse. He was discovering in himself, among an array of emo­tions, intense moments of shame and longing. Patrice was seeing a builder, their builder, the one who had repointed their house, fitted their kitchen, retiled their bathroom, the very same heavyset fellow who in a tea break had once shown Michael a photo of his  mock-Tudor house, renovated and tudorized by his own hand, with a boat on a trailer under a Victorian-style lamppost on the concreted front driveway, and space on which to erect a decommissioned red phone box. Beard was surprised to find how complicated it was to be the cuckold. Misery was not simple. Let no one say that this late in life he was immune to fresh experience. 
      He had it coming. His four previous wives, Maisie, Ruth, Eleanor, Karen, who all still took a distant interest in his life, would have been exultant, and he hoped they would not be told. None of his mar­riages had lasted more than six years, and it was an achievement of sorts to have remained childless. His wives had discovered early on what a poor or frightening prospect of a father he presented, and they had protected themselves and got out. He liked to think that if he had caused unhappiness, it was never for long, and it counted for some­thing that he was still on speaking terms with all his exes. 
      But not with his current wife. In better times, he might have pre­dicted for himself a manly embrace of double standards, with bouts of dangerous fury, perhaps an episode of drunken roaring in the back garden late at night, or writing off her car, and the calculated pursuit of a younger woman, a Samson-like toppling of the marital temple. Instead he was paralyzed by shame, by the extent of his humiliation. Even worse, he amazed himself with his inconvenient longing for her. These days, desire for Patrice came on him out of nowhere, like an attack of stomach cramp. He would have to sit somewhere alone and wait for it to pass. Apparently there was a certain kind of husband who thrilled at the notion of his wife with other men. Such a man might arrange to have himself bound and gagged and locked in the bedroom wardrobe while ten feet away his better half went at it. Had Beard at last located within himself a capacity for sexual masochism? No woman had ever looked or sounded so desirable as the wife he suddenly could not have. Conspicuously, he went to Lisbon to look up an old friend, but it was a joyless three nights. He had to have his wife back, and dared not drive her away with shouting or threats or brilliant moments of unreason. Nor was it in his nature to plead. He was frozen, he was abject, he could think of nothing else. The first time she left him a note—Staying over at R’s tonight. xx P—did he go round to the mock-Tudor ex-council semi with the shrouded speed­boat on the hard standing and a hot tub in the  pint- sized backyard to mash the man’s brains with his own monkey wrench? No, he watched television for five hours in his overcoat, drank two bottles of wine, and tried not to think. And failed. 
      But thinking was all he had. When his other wives had found out about his affairs, they had raged, coldly or tearfully, they had insisted on long sessions into the early hours to deliver their thoughts on bro­ken trust, and eventually their demands for a separation and all that fol­lowed. But when Patrice happened across some e-mails from Suzanne Reuben, a mathematician at the Humboldt University in Berlin, she became unnaturally elated. That same afternoon she moved her clothes into the guest bedroom. It was a shock when he slid the wardrobe doors open to confirm the fact. Those rows of silk and cotton dresses, he realized now, had been a luxury and a comfort, versions of herself lining up to please him. No longer. Even the hangers were gone. She smiled through dinner that night as she explained that she too intended to be “free,” and within the week she had started her affair. What was a man to do? He apologized one breakfast, told her his lapse meant nothing, made grand promises he sincerely believed he might keep. This was the closest he came to pleading. She said she did not mind what he did. This was what she was doing—and this was when she revealed the identity of her lover, the builder with the sin­ister name of Rodney Tarpin, seven inches taller and twenty years younger than the cuckold, whose sole reading, according to his boast, back when he was humbly grouting and beveling for the Beards, was the sports section of a tabloid newspaper. 
      An early sign of Beard’s distress was dysmorphia, or perhaps it was dysmorphia he was suddenly cured of. At last he knew himself for what he was. Catching sight of a conical pink mess in the misted full- length mirror as he came out of the shower, he wiped down the glass, stood full on, and took a disbelieving look. What engines of self-persuasion had let him think for so many years that looking like this was seductive? That foolish thatch of earlobe-level hair that but­tressed his baldness, the new curtain swag of fat that hung below his armpits, the innocent stupidity of swelling in gut and rear. Once he had been able to improve on his mirror self by pinning back his shoul­ders, standing erect, tightening his abs. Now human blubber draped his efforts. How could he possibly keep hold of a young woman as beautiful as she was? Had he honestly thought that status was enough, that his Nobel Prize would keep her in his bed? Naked, he was a dis­grace, an idiot, a weakling. Even eight consecutive  push- ups were beyond him. Whereas Tarpin could run up the stairs to the Beards’ master bedroom holding under one arm a fifty-kilo cement sack. Fifty kilos? That was roughly Patrice’s weight. 
      She kept him at a distance with lethal cheerfulness. These were additional insults, her singsong hellos, the matinal recital of domestic detail, and her evening whereabouts, and none of it would have mat­tered if he had been able to despise her a little and plan to be shot of her. Then they could have settled down to the brief, grisly disman­tling of a five-year childless marriage. Of course she was punishing him, but when he suggested that, she shrugged and said that she could just as easily have said the same of him. She had merely been waiting for this opportunity, he said, and she laughed and said that in that case she was grateful to him. 
      In his delusional state, he was convinced that just as he was about to lose her, he had found the perfect wife. That summer of 2000 she was wearing different clothes, she had a different look around the house—faded tight jeans, flip-flops, a ragged pink cardigan over a T-shirt, her blond hair cut short, her pale eyes a deeper agitated blue. Her build was slight, and now she looked like a teenager. From the empty rope- handled glossy carrier bags and tissue paper left strewn on the kitchen table for his inspection, he gathered she was buying herself new underwear for Tarpin to remove. She was thirty-four, and still kept the strawberries-and-cream look of her twenties. She did not tease or taunt or flirt with him—that at least would have been communication of a sort—but steadily perfected the bright indiffer­ence with which she intended to obliterate him. 
      He needed to cease needing her, but desire was not like that. He wanted to want her. One sultry night he lay uncovered on the bed and tried masturbating himself toward freedom. It bothered him that he could not see his genitalia unless his head was propped up on two pil­lows, and his fantasy was continually interrupted by Tarpin, who, like some ignorant stagehand with ladder and bucket, kept wandering onto the set. Was there another man on the planet apart from Beard attempting at this moment to pleasure himself with thoughts of his own wife just thirty feet away across the landing? The question emp­tied him of purpose. And it was too hot. 
      Friends used to tell him that Patrice resembled Marilyn Monroe, at least from certain angles and in a certain light. He had been happy to accept this status- enhancing comparison, but he never really saw it. Now he did. She had changed. There was a new fullness in her lower lip, a promise of trouble when she lowered her gaze, and her short­ened hair lay curled on her nape in a compelling, old-fashioned way. Surely she was more beautiful than Monroe, drifting about the house and garden at weekends in a haze of blond and pink and pale blue. What an adolescent color scheme he had fallen for, and at his age. 
      He turned  fifty- three that July, and naturally she ignored his birthday, then pretended in her jolly new style to remember it three days later. She gave him a kipper tie in  Day- Glo mint green, telling him the style was being “revived.” Yes, the weekends were the worst. She would come into a room where he was, not wishing to talk, but perhaps wanting to be seen, and she would look about in mild sur­prise before wandering off. She was evaluating everything afresh, not only him. He would see her at the bottom of the garden under the horse chestnut, lying on the grass with the newspapers, waiting in deep shade for her evening to begin. Then she would retire to the guest room to shower, dress, apply makeup and scent. As if reading his thoughts, she was wearing her lipstick red and thick. Perhaps Rodney Tarpin was encouraging the Monroe notion—a cliché Beard was now obliged to share. 
      If he was still in the house when she left (he tried so hard to keep busy at night), he found it irresistible to ameliorate his longing and pain by observing her from an upstairs window as she stepped into the evening air of Belsize Park and walked up the garden path—how disloyal of the unoiled garden gate to squeak in the same old way— and climbed into her car, a small and flighty black Peugeot of wanton acceleration. She was so eager, gunning the engine as she pulled away from the curb, that his douleur redoubled, because he knew she knew he was watching. Then her absence hung in the summer dusk like garden bonfire smoke, an erotic charge of invisible particulates that caused him to remain in position for many pointless minutes. He was not actually mad, he kept telling himself, but he thought he was get­ting a taste, a bitter sip. 
      What impressed him was his ability to think of nothing else. When he was reading a book, when he was giving a talk, he was really thinking of her, or of her and Tarpin. It was a bad idea to be at home when she was out seeing him, but since Lisbon he had no desire to look up old girlfriends. Instead he took on a series of evening lectures about quantum field theory at the Royal Geographical Society, joined radio and TV discussions, and at occasional events filled in for col­leagues who were ill. Let the philosophers of science delude them­selves to the contrary, physics was free of human taint; it described a world that would still exist if men and women and all their sorrows did not. In this conviction he was at one with Albert Einstein. 
      But even if he ate late with friends, he was usually home before her, and was forced to wait, whether he wanted to or not, until she returned, though nothing would happen when she did. She would go straight to her room, and he would remain in his, not wanting to meet her on the stairs in her state of postcoital somnolence. It was almost better when she stayed over at Tarpin’s. Almost, but it would cost him a night’s sleep. 
   At two a.m. one night in late July he was in his dressing gown on his bed listening to the radio when he heard her come in and imme­diately, without premeditation, enacted a scheme to make her jeal­ous and unsure and want to come back to him. On the BBC World Service a woman was discussing village customs as they affected domes­tic life among Turkish Kurds, a soothing drone of cruelty, injustice, and absurdity. Turning the volume down but keeping his fingers on the knob, Beard loudly intoned a fragment of a nursery rhyme. He figured that from her room she would hear his voice but not his words. As he finished his sentence, he turned up the volume of the woman’s voice for a few seconds, which he then interrupted with a line from the lecture he had given that night, and made the woman reply at greater length. He kept this going for five minutes, his voice, then the woman’s, sometimes artfully overlapping the two. The house was silent—listening, of course. He went into the bathroom, ran a tap, flushed the lavatory, and laughed out loud. Patrice should know that his lover was a wit. Then he gave out a muted kind of whoop. Patrice should know he was having fun. 
      He did not sleep much that night. At four, after a long silence suggestive of tranquil intimacy, he opened his bedroom door while keeping up an insistent murmur and went down the stairs backward, bending forward to beat out on the treads with his palms the sound of his companion’s footfall, syncopated with his own. This was the kind of logical plan only a madman might embrace. After seeing his com­panion to the hall, saying his good- byes between silent kisses, and closing the front door on her with a firmness that resounded through the house, he went upstairs and fell into a doze at last, after six, repeat­ing to himself softly, Judge me by my results. He was up an hour later to be sure of running into Patrice before she left for work and of letting her see how suddenly cheerful he was. 
      At the front door she paused, car keys in her hand, the strap of her book- crammed satchel cutting into the shoulder of her floral blouse. No one could doubt it: she looked shattered, drained, though her voice was as bright as ever. She told him that she would be inviting Rodney for dinner that evening, and that he would probably stay the night, and she would appreciate it if he, Michael, would stay clear of the kitchen. 
      That happened to be his day for traveling to the Center out at Reading. Dizzy with fatigue, he began the journey staring through his smeared train window at suburban London’s miraculous combi­nation of chaos and dullness and damning himself for his folly. His turn to listen to voices through the wall? Impossible; he would stay out somewhere. Driven from his own home by his wife’s lover? Impos­sible; he would stay and confront him. A fight with Tarpin? Impossi­ble; he would be stamped into the hallway parquet. Clearly he had been in no state to take decisions or to devise schemes, and from now on he must take into account his unreliable mental state and act conser­vatively, passively, honestly, and break no rules, do nothing extreme. 
   Months later he would violate every element of this resolution, but it was forgotten by the end of that day because Patrice arrived home from work without supplies (there was nothing in the fridge) and the builder did not come to dinner. He saw her only once that night, crossing the hallway with a mug of tea in her hand, looking slumped and gray, less the movie icon, more the overworked primary-school teacher whose private life was awry. Had he been wrong to berate himself on the train, had his plan actually worked, and in her sorrow had she been forced to cancel? 
      Reflecting on the night before, he found it extraordinary that after a lifetime of infidelities, a night with an imaginary friend was no less exciting. For the first time in weeks he felt faintly cheerful, even whistled a show tune as he microwaved his supper, and when he saw himself in the gold-leaf Sun King mirror in the cloakroom down­stairs, he thought his face had lost some fat and looked purposeful, with a shadow of cheekbone visible, and was, by the light of the thirty-watt bulb, somewhat noble, a possible effect of the sugary  cholesterol-lowering yogurt drink he was forcing himself to swallow each morning. When he went to bed, he kept the radio off and lay waiting with the light turned low for the remorseful little tap of her fingernails on his door. 
      It did not come, but he was not troubled. Let her pass a white night reexamining her life and what was meaningful, let her weigh in the scales of human worth a horny-handed Tarpin and his shrouded boat against ethereal Beard of planetary renown. The following five nights she stayed home, as far as he could tell, while he was commit­ted to his lectures and other meetings and dinners, and when he came in, usually after midnight, he hoped his confident footfalls gave the impression to the darkened house of a man returning from a tryst. 
      On the sixth night, he was free to stay in, and she chose to go out, having spent longer than usual under shower and hair dryer. From his place, a small, deeply recessed window on a first-floor half landing, he watched her go along the garden path and pause by a tall drift of ver­milion hollyhocks, pause as though reluctant to leave, and put her hand out to examine a flower. She picked it, squeezing it between newly painted nails of thumb and forefinger, held it a moment to con­sider, then let it drop to her feet. The summer dress—beige silk, sleeve­less, with a single pleat in the small of her back—was new, a signal he was uncertain how to read. She continued to the front gate, and he thought there was heaviness in her step, or at least some slackening of her customary eagerness, and she parted from the curb in the Peugeot at near-normal acceleration. 
      But he was less happy that night waiting in, confused again about his judgment, beginning to think he was right after all, his radio prank had sunk him. To help think matters through, he poured a scotch and watched football. In place of dinner he ate a liter tub of strawberry ice cream and prized apart a half kilo of pistachios. He was restless, both­ered by unfocused sexual need, and coming to the conclusion that he might as well be having or resuming a real affair. He passed some time turning the pages of his address book, stared at the phone a good while but did not pick it up. 
      He drank half the bottle and before eleven fell asleep fully dressed on the bed with the overhead light on, and for several seconds did not know where he was when, some hours later, he was woken by the sound of a voice downstairs. The bedside clock showed two-thirty. It was Patrice talking to Tarpin, and Beard, still fortified by drink, was in the mood to have a word. He stood groggily in the center of the bedroom, swaying a little as he tucked in his shirt. Quietly he opened his door. All the house lights were on, and that was fine; he was already going down the stairs with no thought for the consequences. Patrice was still talking, and as he crossed the hall toward the open sitting-room door he thought that he heard her laughing or singing and that he was about to break up a little celebration. 
      But she was alone and crying, sitting hunched forward on the sofa with her shoes lying on their sides on the long glass coffee table. It was an unfamiliar bottled, keening sound. If she had ever cried like this for him, it had been in his absence. He paused in the doorway, and she did not see him at first. She was a sad sight. A handkerchief or tissue was twisted in her hand, her delicate shoulders were bowed and shaking, and Beard was filled with pity. He sensed that a reconcilia­tion was at hand and that all she needed was a gentle touch, kind words, no questions, and she would fold into him and he would take her upstairs, though even in his sudden warmth of feeling, he knew he could not carry her, not even in both arms. 
      As he began to cross the room a floorboard creaked and she looked up. Their eyes met, but only for a second, because her hands flew up to her face and covered it as she twisted away. He said her name, and she shook her head. Awkwardly, with her back to him, she got up from the sofa, and walking almost sideways, she stumbled on the polar-bear skin, which tended to slide too easily on the polished wooden floor. He had come close to breaking an ankle once and had despised the rug ever since. He also disliked its leering, wide-open mouth and bared teeth yellowed by exposure to the light. They had never done anything to secure it to the floor, and there was no ques­tion of throwing it out because it was a wedding present from her father. She steadied herself, remembered to pick up her shoes, and, with a free hand covering her eyes, hurried past him, flinching as he reached out to touch her arm and beginning to cry again, more freely this time, as she ran up the stairs. 
      He turned off the lights in the room and lay on the sofa. Pointless to go after her when she did not want him, and it did not matter now, because he had seen. Too late for her hand to conceal the bruise below her right eye that spread across the top of her cheek, black fading to inflamed red at its edges, swelling under her lower lid, forcing the eye shut. He sighed aloud in resignation. It was inevitable, his duty was clear: he would have to get in his car now and drive to Cricklewood, lean on the doorbell until he had brought Tarpin from his bed, and have it out with him, right there beneath the coach lamp, and sur­prise his loathed opponent with an astonishing turn of speed and purpose. With eyes narrowing, he thought it through again, linger­ing on the detail of his right fist bursting through the cartilage of Tarpin’s nose, and then, with minor revisions, he reconsidered the scene through closed eyes, and did not stir until the following morn­ing, when he was woken by the sound of the front door closing as she left for work.

Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Solar, the new novel by Ian McEwan, Booker Prize winner and bestselling author of Amsterdam and Atonement.

1. Beard loves physics in part because he believes that it is “free of human taint” (p. 10). In what ways does the novel complicate this belief? In what sense is Beard’s own work “tainted” by human entanglements?

2. The narrative structure of Solar is mostly chronological. What effects does McEwan achieve by occasionally departing from a straightforward chronological progression?

3. Beard claims he does not believe in the possibility of “profound inner change” (p. 77). Does he remain unchanged over the course of the novel?

4. How does McEwan manage to make Beard such a sympathetic character despite his many foibles? What are his most salient character flaws?

5. Why is Beard so attached to preserving what he calls his “unshareable core”? (p. 307). Why does he find it impossible to tell Melissa that he loves her? Why do his marriages keep falling apart?

6. In what ways is Solar a satirical novel? What are its main satirical targets? How, for example, do postmodernists come off in the book?

7. What are some of the funniest moments in Solar? How does McEwan create such brilliant comedic effects?

8. Look at the encounters between art and science in the novel, those occasions when Beard squares off with people from the humanities—novelists, folklorists, postmodern feminists, etc. Who gets the better of these confrontations? Is the book as a whole making a point through its depiction of these encounters?

9. What is the significance of the entropy in the boot room on board the ship that is holding the conference on climate change? What does this chaos and carelessness suggest about humanity’s ability to stop global warming?

10. Beard has a remarkably clear conscience; he is largely untroubled by his affairs and deceits, his theft of Aldous’s ideas, his framing of Tarpin, etc. Why is he so free of the guilt that might afflict most other men?

11. Several times during the course of the novel it appears that public infamy—born of journalists’ insatiable desire for controversy and Beard’s own willingness to step into it—will doom Beard’s career. What enables him to emerge from these disasters relatively unscathed? Will he be as lucky getting out of the mess he’s created at the very end of the book?

12. How surprising is the ending of the novel, particularly the final sentence? What is the swelling sensation that Beard feels in his heart as his daughter approaches him? What is likely to happen to Beard next?

13. How does the appendix containing the presentation speech for Beard’s Nobel Prize alter the way Beard is finally viewed? Why would McEwan choose to attach this appendix to the body of the novel?

14. Solar is in many ways a picaresque and at times farcical novel, and yet it also engages a theme of major importance—global warming. What is the connection between personal and planetary catastrophe in the novel, between the meltdown of Beard’s personal and professional life and the kind of greed, dishonesty, rationalization, and failure to face facts that has resulted in the climate crisis? What is the significance, in this context, of Beard’s inability to moderate his eating habits and his sexual pursuits?

15. What does Solar contribute to our understanding of climate change?


(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center e-newsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com.)

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Solar 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 190 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sorry to see the American critics so down on this novel, esp. NYT, where IM's readers probably go. Even McEwan's "not his best" is far better than most other writers best. He is a craftsman who doesn't patronize his readers and trusts that they bring something besides eyes to the page.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
Ian McEwan apparently has a variety of observations he wishes to make on contemporary issues, not the least of which is science. He is a very smart man, an accomplished writer, and deserves to be heard. So. Why does he choose a vehicle like the novel Solar, centered on an unlikable character who probably has turned most readers off by page 80? But it was around page 80 that I thought the book picked up a bit, and I was able to enjoy some of the dilemmas he created for Michael Beard, the unworthy scientist who's haphazard life is supposed to carry our interest. Yet for those who think the book is very funny or even a good read, I wish to say that I think McEwan would have better conveyed his ideas in a Sunday magazine piece and saved us all from what is essentially a boring novel.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
Fiction of this caliber is too rare, but is all the more welcome for being so. This novel has a message, great prose, hilarious caricatures, and a laugh-at-aging-old-me sense of humility. The book felt like an amusing conversation with several bright friends where a number of the important discussion topics of our time are (lightly, lightly) raised: the "social construct" of genetic code, cap and trade, solar vs. wind, photosynthetic energy, government responsibility, the tentativeness of financing, the "coldhearted predation" of the media. In a time when one might plausibly argue the world is falling down around our ears, it is heartening and enervating to have a crusty old scold and storyteller spin a tale of human greed, folly, and outsized appetites, and how we manage to move ahead despite these things. The inexorability of the human aging process and the failures of self control we all experience is rendered so ridiculous it makes us laugh while we weep. But what I liked most was McEwan showing us that even the greatest among us is so fatally flawed and so repulsively human, that we are bound to fail--unless...and this is the genius in the equation...we cooperate. And how could it be otherwise? Even as free light from the sun falls on our heedless heads, we focus blearily on the changing weather through the thick glass bottoms of anesthesizing glasses of scotch. Only when weather threatens to drown or parch us do we half-heartedly sling our heavy buttocks out of our easy chairs to murmur, annoyed, that the government should do something, sue someone, drill somewhere. Folly, all. Art may after all be an important prod to action, but here I find it a resting place, a way-station on the weary slog to changing things we feel helpless to change, even though we can. It places the finest thinkers right down among us, so we can all claim some superiority, and perhaps even some responsibility. McEwan suggests, perhaps, that even self-interest plays a role in advancing the ball towards the goal, but shows how fragile our hopes, and how easily we can all come undone, lest we not be vigilant.
BillPilgrim More than 1 year ago
Michael Beard won a Nobel Prize in physics as a young man and he has been coasting on it ever since. The book is told entirely from his point of view, in the third person. It is divided into three parts, starting in 2000, then moving to 2005 and ended in 2009. At the beginning, Michael is the head of a government funded program in Britain, that is working on alternative energy. He is rarely there and not really committed to its mission. He goes on excursions and to conferences, giving speeches, but not doing any real work. His marriage is ending, due mostly to his chronic infidelity. In the rest of the book, we see how he progresses, or progressively declines would be more accurate. I found it difficult to like the book, because Michael is such an unlikable character. Still the book is extremely funny in parts; I did laugh out loud. I was interested in the story and kept reading because I wanted to see how it ended.
richardderus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rating: two grudging stars of five (p81)In the middle of a paragraph, a thunderbolt struck me: I don't like Ian MxEwan. I didn't like Atonement...I thought the damned kid shoulda been stoned...I didn't like Saturday...and I do NOT like this tedious tale of a credit-grabbing bore of a has-been.So that's that. Like David Lodge, I shall leave the McEwanizing to the Brits and their fellow travelers. I myownself will be hornswoggled if I EVER consent to open another of his books.
kris_onken on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Every sentence is worth rereading.
alisonkayarnold on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Disappointing. Only fleeting glimpses of McEwan's usually solid narrative style and, whilst somewhat humorous in parts, comes across as far too dismissive to be taken seriously. Reads like the kind of book which was written to order in a beer garden last summer and I won't be surprised to see the film hit our screens soon, possibly in conjunction with an intergovernmental attempt to put nuclear power at the top of the agenda again as our only saviour. Bring back Ian!
andsoitgoes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you want to read about a sad, annoying, selfish man, then read this. Otherwise don't waste your time. I wanted this to be as good as Atonement which was fantastic but this was just boring. Every single character was selfish and flat.
applemcg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
disappointed. while the credits on the jacket testify to McEwan's deft use of the tongue, it took until page 150 before he gave us a glimpse of the title's import. and while the finale is thrilling and fast-paced, it's largely predictable. it's intriguing that our protagonist's name is conflated with Einstein's, and his project has something to do with the implications. i'll await the judgment of physicists, not for the efficacy, but any contact with reality. if there is light at the end of the tunnel, please don't shroud it. apart from raised expectations, it may be a good novel.
mojomomma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Even though he won a Nobel Prize, Dr. Michael Beard is a loser. He hasn't done any real physics in years, he's been unable to remain faithful to any of his five wives, and he'd rather eat and drink to excess than anything else. When fifth wife Patrice decides that what is good for gander is also good for goose, he gets a bit of his own medicine. He returns from a trip to the Arctic (where he had a close encounter with the zipper of his snowmobile suit--hilarious!) to find one of his wife's lovers in his house. That lover is killed in a freak accident and Dr. Beard ingeniously frames the other lover, divorces the wife, and goes on to steal the dead lover's idea of mimicking photosynthesis to produce a clean alternative energy. Will he pull it off, or will it all come crashing down around him?
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Marlissa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
pam.furney on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
tangborn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what to make of this book. It has many of the usual McEwan characteristics: Careful research, concise details about the characters, and a story with many twists and turns. But I was sometimes confused as to why some of the details about the characters' lives were included in the narrative. Often they didn't seem relevant to the plot, and went against the general sense I have about his spare style. But the main point of the book is a relevant for all of us. Progress in science always seems to go forward, in spite of the foibles of the flawed individuals who do the work.
co_coyote on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I have read by Ian McEwan, but I am going to read more.It is amazing to me how funny and interesting a book about a womanizing, five-timemarried, Nobel Prize winning physicist can be. Lot's of fun.
teunduynstee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't read much of McEwan's work before, so I cannot compare it to earlier work. I was impressed by Solar. Mostly by how easily the author combines a well-told story (even thrilling and hilarious every now and then) with an analysis of the problems of our times. Parabels tend to get rather cheesy, but professor Beard as humankind has entertained me till the very last page. The way he fails to shape his life and his body even though he resolves to do so again and again and even though he, more than anyone else, has all the required skills, wealth and sodial position to make the best of it must be modeled after humankind with all our technology and good intentions, but so utterly unable to keep our keep our desires in check.I very much enjoyed the side-step on postmodernism in the Humanities and treating everything as just another narrative.
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michael Beard won a Nobel Prize in physics as a young man and he has been coasting on it ever since.The book is told entirely from his point of view, in the third person. It is divided into three parts, starting in 2000, then moving to 2005 and ended in 2009. At the beginning, Michael is the head of a government funded program in Britain, that is working on alternative energy. He is rarely there and not really committed to its mission. He goes on excursions and to conferences, giving speeches, but not doing any real work. His marriage is ending, due mostly to his chronic infidelity. In the rest of the book, we see how he progresses, or progressively declines would be more accurate.I found it difficult to like the book, because Michael is such an unlikable character. Still the book is extremely funny in parts; I did laugh out loud. I was interested in the story and kept reading because I wanted to see how it ended.
Milda-TX on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
brianinbuffalo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's ironic that a book about energy suffers from such a shortage of this commodity. I read a McEwan novel every couple years (or, in this case, listen to an audio version) mainly to marvel at how my view of his works collide with the reading "public's" general admiraton for his books. His stuff just doesn't do it for me, and "Solar" is another classic example. When an author spends two or three pages describing how a character puts on gloves and boots (or some other minutia), then half as much as time chronicling a death, I find myself muttering "I just don't get it."
peace3love on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After reading the synopsis for this book I was intrigued and thought it would be a great read. I was sadly disappointed. I struggled to even finish the book and found it dull from beginning to end. All of the characters lack inspiration, wit, or charm. The only emotion that I could spark while reading was sympathy for Beard's (the main character) lifestyle as he is an aging, misogynistic, and pathetic man. Also, the book skips from dramatic views of Beard's life and his cheating wife to endless pages about global warming and scientific banter. Not that I don't enjoy science or what the book had to say about it, since this is the main focus, but it is hard to skip from soap-opera type of excitement to completely serious world issues. I don't believe the cheating wife bit had much to add to the book other than a secondary plot so that the book wasn't totally focused on global warming. All-in-all I wouldn't recommend this book to my worst enemy and I probably will never read anything by this same author again. Despite what other reviewers have to say about his other works being much better, I just cannot get over how terrible this book was. I give it 2 stars because the author clearly did a lot of research for this book and I can respect that aspect of it.
saitchy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This took my by surprise, a brilliantly dark, sometimes laugh out loud funny, comic novel.
martymojito on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well, I have been awaiting this latest McEwan for some time, and I loved it. The beginning of the book, as I have come to expect , is terrific, it really sucks you in. But then as a friend of mine remarked, "McEwan does "good start" ". Think Enduring Love.I thought our hero, Michael Beard, or is that anti-hero worked very well. Another reviewer could not even love to hate him, but I could imagine him very clearly, a conceited slob, a thief of other person's ideas, a manipulator, framing another for murder....the only characteristic that I found a bit hard to believe was his womanising. How could he be so successful while being overweight, sloppy, without love, self-centred etc etc.But as a story I thought it was great. Plenty of laugh out loud moments. The scene on page 62, mentioned below, had me in tears laughing. I agree that the science was a little difficult to follow. But, I for one could not put it down but then I am a fan of McEwan.
Cariola on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
triscuit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nothing I like better than laughing out loud while reading, but it didn't happen for me here, sadly. I found myself skipping parts so perhaps I missed the jokes. The environmental plotline seems artificially tacked on the tired old tale of another philandering prof, not quite getting his just desserts. Every once in while an author you enjoy misses your mark and this is the one for me and Ian.