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Solar [Paperback]

Ian McEwan
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (212 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Mar 2011


Michael Beard is a Nobel prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. A compulsive womaniser, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. But this time it is different: she is having the affair, and he is still in love with her.

When Beard's professional and personal worlds collide in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and save the world from environmental disaster. Ranging from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of New Mexico, this is a story of one man's greed and self-deception; a darkly satirical novel showing human frailty struggling with the most pressing and complex problem of our time.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (3 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099549026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099549024
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (212 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 66,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children's novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize, Atonement, Saturday and On Chesil Beach.

Product Description


"Savagely funny... Enormously entertaining...a stellar performance" (Sunday Times)

"A stunningly accomplished work, possibly his best yet...both funny and serious, light and dark, morally engaged and ironically detached" (Financial Times)

"A satirical will come to be regarded as a classic" (Lorna Bradbury Daily Telegraph)

"Wonderfully enjoyable... 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" (Sam Leith Spectator)

"McEwan has succeeded in producing a novel that is both profoundly serious and hilariously funny" (Mail on Sunday)

Book Description

An engrossing, satirical and very funny novel on climate change - an international bestseller.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Solar tells the story of Michael Beard, an overweight and aging physicist who won the Nobel prize twenty years ago and hasn't had an interesting idea since. He plays on his fame and drifts between speaking engagements and sinecures, his private life is a disastrous series of failed marriages.

That all changes when a freak accident leaves him in possession of a file full of brilliant ideas from a young post-grad, and claiming the work as his own, Beard sets out to build a new technology that will single-handedly solve the world's energy crisis and stop climate change.

I won't spoil it for you by saying any more about the story - not that there is much of a story. Like the protagonist, Solar sort of bumbles along, following Beard to the Arctic and back, to conferences, lectures, bored nights in motel rooms, until it suddenly picks up at the end as Beard's various mistakes all suddenly begin to catch up with him all at once.

Michael Beard is such a thoroughly unlikeable character that I nearly gave up halfway through, but there are enough flashes of humour or interesting observations about human nature to make it worth persevering. It's not a great book - the reviewers panning it here have a point. Much of the book is mundane, well written but rather empty and moping. Nothing of any real interest happens until a good third of the way in, and the ending is somewhat contrived. Nevertheless, it's a satire and McEwan is attempting something rather bold - exploring climate change through the lens of human nature. Read that way, I think McEwan pulls it off, although I do wonder what his established fans will make of it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Major disappointment 25 Sep 2011
I have read most of Ian McEwan's books and love most of them. However this proved to be a major disappointment. I could not find anything to like at all in the character Michael Beard, and most of all found it hard to understand what all those women in his life in the book could have seen in him either. It was not very believable. The subject matter did not grip me either, but that is a personal thing. The storyline never really gets going, and I kept waiting for real developments. They did not come. I was relieved to finish it to be honest!
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165 of 187 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp-edged Solar Satire, Sacred and Profane 22 Mar 2010
Only a hundred pages into the latest novel from perhaps the greatest living British writer do you begin to grasp the conflict at the core of Solar. As with the vast majority of McEwan's fiction, the narrative turns on a single, earth-shattering event that rips out the rug from under its protagonist. In Solar, the game-changer occurs upon sometime Nobel laureate Michael Beard's return from a week observing first-hand the effects of climate change in the Arctic circle - which is to say, drinking copious quantities of wine and inventing amusing anecdotes to recount at a later date.

Eager for the comforts of hearth and home, Beard returns to London on an early flight only to find one of his research students in his luxurious apartment, naked but for Beard's own dressing gown. The philandering physicist isn't surprised to find his fifth - count 'em - wife with another man, but when Beard confronts the intruder, an already precarious situation develops into a farce of tragic proportions.

Beard is perhaps McEwan's most repellent protagonist to date, and considering the murderers, paedophiles and pimply teenagers who have narrated some of his previous tales, that's saying something. Beard is old, fat and full of himself; he eats, cheats and greets. He is "scalded by public disgrace... corrupted by a whiff of failure [and] consumed by his cranky affair with sunbeams". His inner monologue invariably borders on the unspeakable, by turns racist, lecherous and homophobic.

But Beard's greatest sin is surely his appetite - and I don't merely mean his enduring love for salt and vinegar crisps, though you get the sense that habit alone will see him in an early grave. From the outset, he consumes. He has consumed five wives, the latest of whom outright detests him.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good reason for mixed reviews! 12 April 2011
By E Mack
Just glancing at the star ratings for this book and I can see why the reception is so mixed. It's no spoiler to say the book ends on a huge cliff hanger and that is massively frustrating for the reader. However I can't agree with people saying that the fundamental problem lies in the dislike-ability of the protagonist. Yes he's an ass, in the style of a Martin Amis character, but this does not make the novel any less readable. A very weird read but certainly one worth persevering with; I personally did not get bored half way through. I rarely have time to finish a book these days but I finished this.
I should add that for those of you who are fans of Atonement, do not expect the same treatment here. This is a very modern novel in the vein of David Lodge or Martin Amis as opposed to the slightly sepia-toned atmosphere of McEwan's other works.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 4/5 of the book brilliant, last 1/5 terrible 21 Aug 2010
Short version:
Buy it, read it, enjoy it. Just beware that 50-60 pages or so are plot duds.

Longer version:
Michael Beard, combining professional failure with a Nobel Prize (some feat!) has many problems in his life, not least marital. Being a scholar myself (though admittedly a lowly social scientist) I thoroughly enjoyed the parts about academic rivalry and backstabbing, though my seat of learning seems comparatively mellow in this respect. The drama of Beard's home life rings fewer bells, but Beard's dysfunctional social skills make for a good read. There are many, many paragraphs that I re-read to savour Beard's egocentric wit. Line by line, the black comedy is great, and this is why you should fork up that tenner to buy the book. The problem is the plotting. First, there are whole chunks that are set-pieced that can be, and possibly should have been, ripped out. A long section details Beard's trip to the Arctic and the many misfortunes and incidents he suffers in the (very) sub-zero conditions. Brilliant stuff I thought as I followed Beard trying to go for a pee outdoors, and eventually having to pour brandy on his penis to extract it from the zipper where it had frozen in place. The problem is that this mini-story has no function beyond plain comedy. Or has it? I happened upon an interview where McEwan explained that he himself had been on just such an expedition, and that this is what got him going on what would eventually become Solar. To me, then, this is a darling that McEwan wouldn't kill for nostalgic reasons, nor was able to turn into an integral part of the story.

I submit that such set pieces are worrying enough, but what snatched off one or even two stars from my rating is the end.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book - The most realistic portrayal of a mid-life crisis...
Ian McEwan provides a deep insight into the feelings and mental processes that are involved in the breakdown of any relationship. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Steve Harpen
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull beyond comparison
I couldn't finish this book and I can count on one hand the number of books I've not finished. I struggled with this for about a hundred pages but eventually gave up because you... Read more
Published 6 days ago by Cece de la Vela
4.0 out of 5 stars Great audiobook
Well-written, well-researched and really funny at times. Not a feel-good or good-night novel though. It is too unsettling and thought-provoking for that. Read more
Published 27 days ago by Touffu
4.0 out of 5 stars Love to Hate
While I’m not normally one to revel in another’s misfortune, Michael Beard, the central character in “Solar” is so abhorrent that I found myself eagerly awaiting his come-uppance... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Open Ears
2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious read
Unattractive character full of heavy background detail .
Read for book group -not my cup of tea ,difficult to finish.
Published 3 months ago by Mrs. Susan E. Hall
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing for a novelist of McEwan's calibre
The central character, Michael Beard, is a physicist whose youthful work won him a Nobel prize some twenty years ago but who has done no significant academic work since. Read more
Published 3 months ago by James
4.0 out of 5 stars Great
The central character is drawn so well, you can almost smell his often rancid stench from the pages as you turn them. Read more
Published 3 months ago by J. Robinson
2.0 out of 5 stars A Dull Journey
I was very disappointed by this. Even if, as some reviewers claim, it's a cunning satire on how the world, like Beard, is sleep-walking to an oblivion of its own making, this is an... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Sentinel
4.0 out of 5 stars The Choise of Men
My husband read it first and enjoyed it, I think it is more of a mans book than a womans
Published 4 months ago by Mrs. Pamela J. Baker
1.0 out of 5 stars waste of precious time
Tragedy from start to finish. Sickening topic and even sickening end. "Savagely funny" I don't think so. Wish I could get back that time.
Published 4 months ago by SJ
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