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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solar eclipses all previous work
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...
Published on 14 July 2011 by Mr. Timothy W. Dumble

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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Exploring climate change through the lens of human nature
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...
Published on 17 Jan. 2011 by Jeremy Williams


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solar eclipses all previous work, 14 July 2011
By 
Mr. Timothy W. Dumble (Sunderland, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Solar (Paperback)
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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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Exploring climate change through the lens of human nature, 17 Jan. 2011
By 
Jeremy Williams (Luton) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Solar (Paperback)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very witty in places but somehow unfulfilling, 7 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Solar (Paperback)
There are many good things in Solar. The quality of writing is superb throughout and the book is worth reading just as an adventure in use of language. There is a lot of wit laced with black humour and satire. Unlike some critics I thoroughly enjoyed the digressions into physics even though much of it went over my head. However, "saving the planet" is an important issue, even for those who don't actually believe the planet is in peril, and McEwen concisely summarises most of the key issues. The characterisation of Michael Beard - the fat, greedy anti-hero - was excellent. The man was consistently repellant and morally bankrupt, yet not unlovable. It takes real skill to make a sympathetic character out of Michael Beard, but McEwan manages to do it. (The scary thing is that there is a bit of Michael Beard in all of us, if we're honest; at least there is in me. Apologies to anyone to whom this observation does not apply.) Unfortunately the book has flaws, which is unsurprising as it is probably impossible to write a humorous book that is "perfect". Amongst the things I didn't like were the "carry on" moments where wit gave way to slapstick humour, for example the polar expedition where Michael Beard suffers frostbite whilst urinating in sub-zero temperatures. (This might just be a sense of humour failure on my part because I note that other people found that episode really funny.) There were moments of pure self-indulgence, for example where McEwan describes over two pages of tedious detail the descent of an aeroplane over West London before landing. The final quarter of the book was weak regarding the plot line. It is difficult to find a satisfactory ending for a humorous book and even McEwan can't do it. I was left feeling somehow unsatisfied. Having said all this, I found the book very readable and entertaining - I enjoyed it more than any other of McEwan's book apart from On Chesil Beach. For any other writer, I'd give this book 5 stars. But because the author is Ian McEwan and because he's underperformed by his own high standards, I'm afraid I can only give three stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Messy, but readable, 18 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Solar (Kindle Edition)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly, but not quite, very good, 10 Feb. 2011
By 
davidT "Omnivore" (Hildesheim, Germany) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Solar (Paperback)
I couldn't avoid the feeling when reading this book that it was a reworking of Kingsley Amis' One Fat Englishman. Not that Michael Beard is quite as monstrous as Roger Micheldene, but there's the same totally selfish dedication to over-indulgence in every respect, and the same disregard of other people's feelings - or even an ignorance that other people might have feelings.
Interestingly, we start the story by being on Professor Beard's side, as we learn that his wife is openly having an affair while still staying in the marital home. This sympathy doesn't last long though, as we rapidly realise Beard himself has pretty impressive form in the infidelity stakes, and has already strayed several times in this, his fifth, marriage. However, it's fortunately not necessary actually to like the main character to enjoy reading a book.
I don't know Ian McEwan's educational background, but he's done an impressive amount of work swotting up some basic physics and solar theory, enough at any rate to convince this unlearned reader that he knows what he's talking about.
Other good points for me were the splendid descriptions, particlularly of being in a plane circling London before coming in to Heathrow, and following that, a misunderstanding in the train. This was not at all spoiled for me when I recognised it as being a retelling of a fairly standard urban myth (and indeed one of the other characters later thinks that's what it is), because the narration is so skilled.
The minus points? Although I quite enjoyed the expedition to the Arctic, I couldn't see what the relevance of it was, as it didn't seem to tie into the story at any point. Not a big deal, I suppose, but in a fairly short book you expect more tightness, with every scene and incident pulling its weight, and that wasn't always the case. There was possibly a sense of dragging in one or two set pieces to push it over some notional 'novel-length' threshold.
The other sticking point for me, and the reason I can't give it five stars, is the ending. What is all that about? Where did that complete about-turn in attitudes come from? Are we supposed to gather that he's had some sort of minor breakdown and is now about to become a better, nicer person? I'm afraid I don't buy that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ignoble nobel prize winner, 18 Jun. 2010
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Solar (Hardcover)
Ian McEwan's Prof Michael Beard is possibly the most ignoble Nobel prize winners there has ever been. He's gloriously obnoxious and hateful in almost every way. Since winning his prize this Nobel Laureate has rested on his Nobel laurels and has traded on his reputation rather than physics. When this book starts, he's on his fifth wife having managed to wreck all previous marriages by his compulsive infidelity. He's short, balding, ageing and obese, bigoted, and something of an opportunist, particularly if it means he can be lazy and get away with something. In short, (which he is), he's morally vacant. But what makes Beard an effective creation and what carries us along with him, despite his obnoxiousness, is that he knows all these things about himself. He's rather like Shakespeare's Richard III - he's honest with the reader and himself about what he is doing. Sure he would like to change, but talking about it isn't doing it, is it?

And here is where the personal character links merge with the general themes of the story. Climate change. At least in one reading of this book, Beard's approach to his own well-being (particularly his ballooning weight) is similar to the West's approach to global warming - lots of talk, but depressingly little action.

It's not so much a book about climate change per se. Sure, Beard ends up working on a solar solution to the energy crisis - only because he's managed to acquire someone else's ideas of course - but along the way there are swipes at science, global warming itself, the press and political correctness. McEwan has mastered the comic art of taking arguments to the edge of reason and fractionally beyond to make them funny, without going too far into the absurd. There's a grain of truth in much of what comes out of Beard's mouth - as more than a grain of food passes in the opposite direction.

Many have called this a comic book - I'm not so sure. Yes, it has some highly comic scenes, and some bordering on farce, but it's more of a serious book that has plenty of funny passages. Often the comedy is used to get over particularly grim messages. It is a terrific character study of a thoroughly nasty, lecherous, self-centred, obnoxious man, with plenty of dark humour and satire thrown in. And it is superbly researched - as you would expect from McEwan.

For me, it certainly doesn't "eclipse" McEwan's earlier work, but it's characteristically well written, highly readable, and thought provoking - not bad for a book labelled as a comic work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Power to Ian McEwan (poor pun I know), 22 April 2011
This review is from: Solar (Paperback)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Review of Solar, 22 July 2011
This review is from: Solar (Kindle Edition)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Are you McEwen in disguise?, 31 May 2011
This review is from: Solar (Paperback)
Strange book this, I've read all of McEwen's previous novels and its unlike anything he's produced before. Its more humourous and light-weight and the Physicist Micheal Beard is as self absorbed and as unsympathetic as they come. The storyline pops along just fine but I struggled to care about it or anyone in it. I'm not sure what he's trying to say here - there are some interesting insights into climate change but because the overall ambience is jokey I was never sure how seriously to take them. Mid-life crisis? climate change? escaping or not the consequences of our actions? its all there, but for me it felt shallow and trite, not something I ever thought I'd say about McEwen - and had his name not been on the cover I'd have sworn blind it wasn't his. Its as well written as you'd expect, but in my opinion, its not a good place to start with McEwen if you are new to him. I'd recommend The Child in Time, The Comfort of Strangers or Cement Garden or more recently Saturday/Atonement.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly entertaining, 13 Oct. 2014
By 
Uncle Barbar (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Solar (Kindle Edition)
I have enjoyed many an Ian McEwan novel but I never knew he could be so funny. This book had me in stitches, which is a little unsettling since the subject matter encompasses death and deception. The main protagonist is so dreadfully narcissistic and solipsistic you really have no idea what he's going to do next, but you can't wait to find out. I found this hugely entertaining and there were some great cameo scenes. I really would highly recommend this as an entertaining read.
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Solar (Random House Large Print)
Solar (Random House Large Print) by Ian McEwan (Paperback - 30 Mar. 2010)
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