Customer Review

81 of 86 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever, 22 Sep 2012
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This review is from: Sweet Tooth (Hardcover)
I wasn't convinced by McEwan's attempt at humour in Solar and this is very much a return to what I think he is good at. The story of Serena Frome (rhymes with plume!) and narrated by her, it tells of her progression from studying maths at Cambridge (whilst nurturing her real passion for literature) to her recruitment by MI5 in the early 70s. MI5 at that time is very much a male-dominated organisation and the women recruited are given mostly admin tasks. Serena has left a relationship with an older married man at Cambridge (who groomed her for MI5) and is attracted to Max, a senior colleague at work. But her life changes when she is given a real assignment - managing a young author, Tom Haley, who MI5 believe to have the right (sic) tendencies to write the type of thing they like i.e. anti-communist essays and novels. Serena persuades Tom to accept funding (with its real source hidden) to support his work, but things are (somewhat predictably) complicated as she is immediately attracted to him and vice versa. From then it's only a matter of time before things start to unravel and although the novel is not exciting as such, the prose is extremely taut and is fairly un-putdownable.

I was concerned early on in the book that there was a lot of writing about writing going on, something I detest. And there are a lot of references to books and authors - there is even a very famous author who has a part in the book, although we never "see" him directly. But eventually I was won over by how McEwan meshes the plot, discussions about literature and even some short stories (including one about the Monty Hall problem (worth googling) and how it might - and might not - be the source of a short story about infidelity. The sense of the early 70s is well done and it there are fairly obvious points made about global financial crises then and now, although done implicitly and handled well. I couldn't spot many anachronisms and even if I could these could be explained away by the fact that Serena is narrating this from the present day.

I was a bit concerned about whether the author's voice was convincing as a woman in her sixties remembering her life in her late teens and early twenties and I have to say that I am sure this book will be up for a Bad Sex Award next time they are on. But it's certainly a page-turner and the final quarter of the book is extremely well handled and manages to throw in a twist or two. I don't think this is as good as, for example, The Innocent or The Child In Time (my favourite McEwan book) and it doesn't have the ability to shock like his early works (e.g. The Cement Garden) but it's very well done and certainly worth a read.
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Comments

Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 May 2013 11:41:57 BDT
Gavin says:
A very useful review, thankyou. I've just finished the book and indeed found several aspects of McEwan's formulation of the plot, and his treatment of the characters, problematic. It seems that as McEwan travels further in his career his true colours seem more clearly displayed with each book he writes. Give me Updike, any time!

Posted on 5 Aug 2013 17:20:20 BDT
patrician says:
"I was a bit concerned about whether the author's voice was convincing as a woman in her sixties..."

But that's just it. It is not the voice of a woman, but the voice of a woman as written by a man, ie, Tom Hadley. From the start we sense something slightly 'off' in the narrative, yet we also feel it is deliberate. Very close to the end we may begin to suspect what has been hinted at throughout, that this is not Serena's story as written by herself, but as transformed into a novel by Hadley, which remembers/imagines/reconstructs Serena's & thus his story & his truth.
That is the whole point of the book, the sleight of hand McEwan pulls off, very successfully I believe.
And I thought the sex was pretty good, if you see what I mean.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Oct 2013 17:44:46 BDT
Debbie says:
"patrician" I'm so frustrated to have read the spoiler in your review. I don't know if you meant to, but you've spoiled the book for me now I guess.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Oct 2013 17:51:21 BDT
patrician says:
I'm so sorry, I did not do it deliberately & usually go out of my way to avoid that. I guess I just thought I was replying to points others had already made; but re-reading my comment I admit it does seem to reveal too much.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Oct 2013 17:37:13 GMT
Ah, now I see clearly, where before I was looking through a glass darkly.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2014 20:45:27 GMT
bjsummers says:
I would like to ask, what are these true colours, that you seem to disapprove of?
And Debbie, I have only offer a little bit of sympathy; in general I have found that reading Amazon reviews (or reading them too closely) before reading the book in question is not a great idea for various reasons (including plot spoilers) and to go on and read the comments (where we are entitled to have a proper debate and point out obvious flaws in a review, as Patrician did) is asking for trouble.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jan 2014 19:27:55 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 24 Jan 2014 19:32:59 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jan 2014 14:36:00 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 5 Feb 2014 15:14:32 GMT]
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John Tierney
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Location: Wirral, UK

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