164 of 184 people found the following review helpful
Sharp-edged Solar Satire, Sacred and Profane,
This review is from: Solar (Hardcover)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. He consumes headlines, opinions, science, gossip. In fact, he has made his name in quantum physics by consuming and regurgitating Einstein for his hypothesis, the Beard-Einstein Conflation, earning the Nobel prize that is Beard's only real success by riding on the theoretical coattails of that scientist's breakthroughs. He is a compulsive consumer, and it's a credit to McEwan that Solar remains compelling in spite of its protagonist's unapologetic repugnance.
In large part, that's thanks to the black and brilliantly British sense of humour that pervades the narrative. From the discovery of "an ancient rasher of bacon doubling as a bookmark" between the pages of a valuable first edition to Beard's dreadful scheme to trick his fifth wife into thinking he is entertaining attractive company; and from a packet of salt and vinegar crisps shared (or not quite) on a train ride to an inconvenient call of nature during his weeklong expedition to the Arctic circle, there are frequent moments of dark slapstick more befitting The Mighty Boosh than the latest novel from the great nation's most esteemed author.
The humour is sharp-edged, of course; a fine satirical blade held tightly against the throat of a world procrastinating on its not-quite-fears of climate change. A long and wonderfully cutting lecture Beard gives midway through Solar forms the basis of McEwan's framing of the arguments for and against, but these concerns are not the crux of this novel: Solar doesn't preach in the fashion of Saturday. It is a character study at its heart, a startling triptych of the movements - both literal and metaphorical - of a physically and morally unpleasant man the whims of fate have placed in a position of power. In that, as in its every other purpose, Solar is a tremendous success.
Packed full of observations both sacred and profane and characters who will challenge your understanding of any number of issues, Solar is far from the dry tale of the end-times many feared it might be. Rather, McEwan's novel is an alarming parable of man and movement; the movements man should make, that is, set against those he selfishly does. Shocking, hilarious and unashamedly English, Solar will surely take its place alongside the very best of this breathtaking author's back-catalogue. Let it be said, Ian McEwan is a very clever monkey indeed.
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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 31 Mar 2010 09:40:45 BDT
Jonny Fantastic says:
what a great review! almost as good as the book itself!!! cheers.
In reply to an earlier post on 12 Apr 2010 16:07:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 Apr 2010 16:08:05 BDT
victoria sponge says:
I agree - what an excellent review. Treads a clear, bright and well-observed path through the hype and hate that seem to surround household name novelists, with an informed and intelligent review. Wish more paid reviewers in the papers could write like that. Anyway, it has certainly helped me to make up my mind and buy the book - so thank you.
Posted on 27 Apr 2010 17:52:18 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Apr 2010 17:52:44 BDT
T Donaghy says:
This reviewer is obviously an ardent fan of the author. I thought the book was truly awful. I had to force myself to read laborious passages, wondering where it all was going, trawl through vast boring descriptions of scientific prose (I myself am a scientist). A total waste of time. The main characher was so repugnant and repellent it was hardly worth the effort.
Posted on 15 May 2010 04:03:46 BDT
Last edited by the author on 15 May 2010 04:04:06 BDT
Megapixels Ltd says:
Solar is being discussed on May 21st 2010 at Chichester Readers Meetup in Hampshire.
In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2010 09:23:48 BDT
Because, of course, we should only read novels about nice, attractive people who behave well.
Posted on 19 May 2010 22:51:58 BDT
Lizzie Bookworm says:
wonderful review for a wonderful book- it made me understand science more than any dry old text
Posted on 13 Jun 2010 19:10:40 BDT
Your point about consumerism is interesting; especially as the novel deals with the capitalists' side of global warming.
Similarly, you could add that he consumed Aldous' ideas into his own work.
Posted on 8 Jul 2010 23:38:54 BDT
K. Rowbory says:
I really hope the book isn't as pretentious as this review.
Also, I should mention that all scientists depend on and build on the work of others. That's the way science works. A scientist isn't expected to come up with something completely original out of nowhere. This applies just as much to Einstein, who couldn't have done what he did without the work of countless physicists and mathematicians before him, perhaps most significantly Lorentz and Poincaré.
Posted on 12 Sep 2010 15:52:58 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 Sep 2010 16:04:19 BDT
M. Saxby says:
Ah, if only the book was anything like as entertaining as this review makes it sound...
Sadly, I found it tedious, long winded, aimless, self satisfied and ultimately unrewarding. The book is very much like it's central character (I won't say hero) - unlikeable, lazy, basking in past glories and ultimately worthless - I also found the greedy way it consumed my time insulting - Maybe it's actually a stunningly clever joke on the publisher and the blind fans who will adore anything McEwan writes? That hadn't occured to me before!
Even the 'single, earth-shattering event' is a dull non-entity of an event, which really takes neither the plot or the reader anywhere. This must've been easy work for the author as I feel this would probably have made a pretty forgetable entry in a volume of short stories or an illuminating aside about an unseen character in a proper novel.
In a review for the Author's "The Innocent" it's suggested that people don't start with McEwan by reading that novel (accidently, as this and it were gifts, I did), but if I had picked up "Solar" before "The Innocent" I know I wouldn't have read the vastly superior Cold War book, which DOES feature all the elements this review suggests Solar has, but actually, totally lacks...
One final point puzzles me... Where was all 'the science' that many people alude to? The character was a scientist looking to replicate photo-synthesis to generate electricity, but really that's about as deep a description of 'science' as I found in this book!
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2010 10:20:31 BDT
Captain Pugwash says: