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  • Solar
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3.2 out of 5 stars243
3.2 out of 5 stars
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on 14 July 2011
Politics,physics and environmentalism are unlikely comedy bed partners but it is testimony to McEwan's ability that he has woven all three into an hilarious and dark satire which conveys an equally serious message about the mentality of humankind. Michael Beard is a convincingly real figure uncomfortably familiar to the reader at times,the personification of Humankind,self indulgent,unable to control his self destructive visceral urges,unable to save himself let alone the World.'Solar' is a powerful indictment of modern consumerism in which Beard lives for the moment, a sybarite seeking the short cut to success and hapiness,an amoral shadow of his former self.

Fans of McEwan should be warned that 'Solar' represents a very different read to some of his other work eg 'Amsterdam', Saturday' or 'On Chesil Beach'. The authentic and well researched science might not be to the taste of all readers although non scientists should persevere as they will enjoy the arts v science theme developed hilariously within.What it does contain however are many examples of McEwan's familiar talent in the art of the simile alongside a previously less demonstrated ability to deliver comic one liners with panache- none better than the dead polar bears quip.

Justice is seen to be done in the denouement with Beard's hubris and self delusion unravelling with comic results-will we also have time to experience a similar ephiphany with respect to global warming?Beard's inevitable demise is deliciously ironic coming as it will from his beloved solar photons.In the flawed humanity of Michael Beard 'Solar' asks how can we save the world when we can't even look after ourselves?
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on 22 April 2011
A perfect book for the beach as one can easily get immersed and entertained and equally easily put it down, saunter off and pick up a drink.

In many ways Beard, the protagonist, is dislikable as other reviewers have noted but Ian McEwan's tight and incredibly detailed writing means that the reader has huge insight into Beard's personality and not many characters ficitional or otherwise would emerge entirely likable under such scrutiny. I genuinely didn't find him as repugnant as others seemed to, in fact the cliff-hanger ending left me rooting for him and irritated that there wasn't a more decisive ending, many times in the book I felt genuine sympathy for him. He is clearly unprincipalled and makes at least two appalling decisions but then most people have at some stage; just not on this flagrantly morally bankrupt scale and this is presumably the allegory on global warming and our own part in it. I can't quite hate him.

It is McEwan's writing style that I particularly enjoy - sentences which you want to savour; the small nuances making the humour through the mundane and sometimes requiring a minute amount of unravelling giving you a small pinging satisfaction similar to having solved a crossword clue.

Sometimes this book made me laugh out loud and it constantly kept me engaged and I only wish I really knew what happened to the protagonist when the book closes - a little blurb on Wikipedia would be very helpful on this front!
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on 22 June 2012
This is the first Ian McEwan novel I've ever read; for years I had him mentally confused with Irvine Welsh and besides that I suspected he might be a bit puffed up reputationally.

I was initially interested in this book because I'm interested in climate change hysteria. I was intrigued to discover how this author would rationalise whatever his stand was; you don't write a book about climate change without having a view on it, surely.

McEwan turns out to be a better writer than I'd anticipated, because I'm about three-quarters of the way through the book and I still have no idea what he personally thinks about it all. His protagonist's view is unstable. He starts out uninterested in the politics, bored of the way political adversaries assign views to each other they do not hold so that they can then attack them. By the middle of the novel, he's doing the same thing himself, carping at and trying to patronise "deniers" without taking the trouble to engage with any of their actual arguments or opinions. Beard is wholly persuaded that people who disagree with him only do so because they are energy industry shills fearful for their profits, a reflection he has as he's about to lecture to a bunch of energy industry investors on how much money his idea will make for everyone.

Beard is an awesomely ghastly character, as indeed is every other climate activist in the book; they are a rogues' gallery of earnest twits with pony tails, of pompous pudding-faced academics who object to being argued with and are so fat they can scarcely move, and of vacuous hippies who think ice sculpture will save the world. It is very instructive that at no stage does anyone enumerate the best arguments for or against belief in the climate change that, as a business opportunity, is the mainspring of the book.

I didn't find it funny, but there is an edge of seat quality to it that I found very engaging. Not since American Psycho have a read a book in which everyone was this ghastly and yet you still couldn't put the book down. Recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 February 2012
I've read a number of Ian McEwan's excellent books and was surprised by how funny I found this one. His central character, Nobel prize winner Michael Beard, is a wonderful caricature who is full of self-importance. He is greedy, chauvinistic, and without scruples but whose exploits, particularly his trip to the Arctic circle, are full of comic scenes that make him seem less obnoxious. Beard's troubles with colleagues, wives, girlfriends, and his wife's lovers all provide rich material for humour in this multi-layered book, under the guise of which the author incorporates serious arguments supporting the truth that global warming is happening and that only through new technology can a catastrophe be averted. Beard has hold of such technology and his pursuit of its implementation provides the finale to the story. Unlike many other authors I thought McEwan pulled off this foray into science. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
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on 28 February 2012
Though Global Warming is the backdrop to this novel, the real theme, it occurs to me, is the largely predetermined nature of Humanity. The sun is, in essence, a literary light to be shone upon the crevices of human behaviour.

McEwen assembles for us a grotesque in the form of Professor Michael Beard, a once-brilliant, now dissolute, shambling hedonist, a man unable to deny (despite every graphic warning) his appetites and seeking ever-more public acclaim. Beard's behaviour is dissected for the reader, his ricocheting thought processes masterfully laid bare and sketchily traced back to his upbringing.

Beard's Nobel Prize in Physics, in recognition for long-ago, insightful work into the interaction between photons and matter, has afforded him his own gravitational field, one that attracts investors and lovers and wives in seemingly equal measures, all with their own agendas.

With a possibly excusable exception made for the infant Catriona, no character emerges without a large dollop of entrenched self-centeredness at their core.

The task of an author is to render characters that hold together in the reader's mind, no matter how ghastly the characters are. In Beard, perhaps - at least in the early part of the book - the comedic touches are a little too much Mr Bean-like for credibility. However, those passages surrounding the trip to the Arctic Circle are nonetheless hilarious and will serve to draw the wary reader into the later more subdued, more `literary' material.

The author's aim ranges broadly, not only at human relationships (McEwan's standard territory) and moral ambivalences, but also touching upon alternate truths, the snobbery of the arts towards the unfathomable sciences, the lack of self-awareness among the high-minded (for example in the locker room of the ship), the inspirational complexity of the natural world (photosynthesis), and the professional dislocations between pure science and engineering.

I thought the scientific aspects of the narrative were handled with a sense of verisimilitude, one I enjoyed but can imagine may be off-putting to the non-scientifically minded.

This was a satirical book that I found to be a page-turner. It is not an uplifting novel, though. Almost as an aside, the author hints finally at the possibility of his protagonist's eventual redemption. How could he do any other? There is only so much illumination that any reader can survive without being burnt to a crisp.
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on 18 March 2011
I didn't dislike this book; it's topical and funny. Ian McEwan has been criticised for taking a lot of artistic licence with the scientific theory, but I think that's fine. It's a work of fiction, after all, not a doctoral thesis. Beard is a strong enough central character and although the plot is lacking, the pace is good. But it does read like a series of metaphors in search of a story.

After many marital infidelities Beard is about to divorce his fifth wife. But on discovering that she doesn't appear to care and is, in fact, having an affair of her own, he develops an obsession with her and changes his mind. A Nobel Laureate, he hasn't done any serious science since winning his prize, but his name still spells fund money in the scientific world and he is not short of lucrative offers of one sort or another. He takes a high profile assignment with a government funded initiative committed to enlisting the public in the search for ideas to combat global warming.

He continues to obsess about his wife, but he lacks the emotional depth necessary to win her back. In a final bid to rid himself of his fixation he accepts an offer to join a group of climate change activists on an expedition to the Arctic Circle. He is ill-equipped, being fat, alcoholic, anti-social and completely uninterested in climate-change. He finds himself the only scientist in a group of artists, no climate changing ideas are forthcoming and everyone mislays their arctic outdoor gear, and so steals other people's, on a daily basis. Yes, you've guessed, it's a metaphor for global warming and the way in which we fail to take care of the resources which are most important to us. Very heavy handed on the metaphor front, but still a funny piece of prose.

On Beard's return, a sequence of events leads him to a decision to resurrect his career and he begins work on clean energy research in a cynical attempt to appeal to the zeitgeist. The rest of the book deals with the vain, greedy, self-obsessed, emotionally sterile and opportunistic Beard as he attempts to gain new recognition and corporate investment. On the way he continues to betray his women, gobble his food, drink more, grow fatter and avoid responsibility for all of it. He has enough insight to know he's on a destructive path, but insufficient self-control to put a stop to it. Yes, he's a metaphor too. Eventually, all the individual strands of his greedy, lascivious, self-serving and badly constructed life converge. Is it too late for redemption? Well, I don't want to give the ending away.

The book is readable, but the writing is messy and undisciplined. It needs a much tighter structure to elevate it from merely readable to a good novel.
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on 17 January 2011
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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on 12 September 2011
There seemed to be no plot, just a meandering journey through an unpleasant character's promiscuous love life. Occasionally, references to what were touted to be cutting-edge green technologies were clumsily inserted, but this felt very artificial as if the author remembered that there needed to be some element of the book that related to the title.

It appeared that the author had two amusing anecdotes (crisps and peeing) that he was keen to use regardless of the plot. These were indeed carefully crafted, but ultimately they were asides with no relevance to what little plot there was.

The ending was rushed, fairly predictable and ultimately disappointing.
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on 22 July 2011
This is my first Ian McEwan book. Stupidly, I downloaded this book thinking it was an Sf, doh! The book is about an adulterous, nobel laureatte physicist, Michael Beard, an over-weight and balding man who somehow manages to attract the beautiful women, getting through five marraiges in his life, only to cheat on them with a string of casual affairs. The book follows Beard during three periods of his life, charting his establishing himself as the mastermind behind solar energy for the 'humanity', mimicking the process of photosynthesis by splitting hydrogen and oxygen from water. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong. Beard is a disgusting but likeable rogue of a scientist who is both blessed and cursed by his winning of the Noble prize in the 1970 for his Conflation theory. Its a very humorous book and despite his antics, you can't help wanting to know what disaster will overtake Beard next. I did however feel cheated by the open ending.

By Noor A Jahangir
The Changeling King (The Trollking Saga)
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on 14 December 2012
There's not much to like about the central character in Solar but heck, this is a good, entertaining read. Much as you do not want to like - still less approve - of the self-obsessed, self-justifying, amoral (if not downright immoral) Beard, McEwan's portrait of a narcissistic early achiever on a global scale, since down on his luck, is funny, compelling and, in its well researched way, educative too. The assumed comeuppance of this distasteful anti-hero is something you spot a long way off but, in classic tragic, hubristic fashion, the author keeps building the intensity and sheer awfulness of the situation - things can only get worst, surely? - and finally leaves us guessing at the end.

Craftily written, pacy, at points excruciatingly funny, Solar proved a good holiday read and, despite its daunting bulk, it was darned hard to put down.
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