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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 23 July 2010
Well it's either Ian McEwan being a less than clear writer or me being dense and I humbly suppose it is the latter, but at least one third of this book went way over my head. However as it all sped by through the clouds a few sunbeams penetrated through and landed on me. Solar energy `lite' as explained and exploited by the waddling Bad Boy Beard became slightly more understandable as I read on. Luckily someone at a party told me that 'Solar' is meant to be a comedy just as I'd begun reading it which helped me get a grip.

I actually liked Beard and kept with the book mostly for his sheer effrontery, greed, optimism and naughtiness. I took to his daughter Catriona and I admired his wives. I enjoyed being part of his thought processes and felt an understanding sympathy with his hopeless behaviour. The surprise finding of his wife's dead lover and Beard's arrangement of the situation all made a sort of mad sense.

Ian McEwan never writes the same book twice and so you can't account for what he will come up with next. I will stick with him through thick and thin because of his hugely satisfactory earlier works but with the pickings becoming ever more slender for me, I just have to appreciate what he writes that I can `get'. This time it was the Physics Laureate Professor Michael Beard, the Chief, who for me had a certain kind of ghastly charm!
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on 23 October 2017
Did not enjoy this book at all. The ‘hero’ is a totally unlkeable character and impossible to identify with. Boring, pretentious and a waste of precious reading time. Would give no stars if possible !
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on 21 July 2017
Fantastically funny. Obnoxious main character - but I liked him , so well written. One of the few books I will keep to read again.
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on 5 August 2017
Good service. Excellent book.
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on 3 January 2015
I was disapppointed with this; couldn't get into the characters and the humour didn't appeal. Sweet Tooth so much better IMO
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 June 2015
As a chemist I cannot easily judge how accessible this book, about the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and general slob, Michael Beard, will be to a non-scientist. Certainly there is a great deal of scientific background as befits Beard’s initial role as Director of the UK’s National Centre for Renewable Energy and transformation into a solar energy entrepreneur.

Beard is seen at three stages of his career, initially in 2000 and then five and nine years later. Beard is short, fat, untidy compulsive philanderer, and McEwan positions him at the centre of a comic novel about global environmental challenges that are far from humerous.

In the first part of the book, Beard is 53, his fifth marriage is collapsing and he is very aware that the high point of his career is now decades behind him. Twenty-eight years earlier he established the Beard-Einstein Conflation that describes ‘the interaction of light with matter [to] obey a new kind of subtle symmetry that greatly simplifies calculations.’ Whilst these ideas caused Richard Feynman to consider them magical, they now attract little interest. Meanwhile Beard earns money lecturing, serving on committees and allowing his name to be used on letterheads.

Beard heads a new governmental research establishment, created by the Blair government as a national response to climate change [the reality is that the fence erected around the site - without the consent of the senior management - 'represented…..17 per cent of the first year’s budget.’], and comprising ‘janitors, office cleaners, administrators, repair men, even scientists, and a human resources team to find such people.’ The Centre’s eye-catching project, WUDU, a Wind turbine for Urban Domestic Use, is doomed from the start and one of his fanatical young post-docs [the kind who utters works like ‘I seriously urge you to read the piece on thin-film solar in next week’s ‘Nature’.’] urges his boss to consider artificial photosynthesis as an alternative. This opens up a new line of investigation and wealth-creating opportunity.

McEwan has a tendency to over-write but, to an extent, this can be forgiven since he is so entertaining. There are comic set-pieces, including a trip to the North Pole as part of disparate arts/science group where he suffers a distressing injury and causes chaos in the changing rooms [an example of what happens if we think only of ourselves], a train journey, a government appointment to promote physics in schools and a disastrous public debate on ‘Women and Physics’. However, the final part, set in New Mexico where he has come to demonstrate the practicalities of innovative solar panels, ends on a farcical note that disappoints. The whole narrative arc is less than convincing, however.

The characters in the book’s three sections become increasingly sketchy leading to the obsurdity of the book outweighing its serious tone. The women, almost all of whom Beard has bedded, are disappointingly two-dimensional. The first part allows the author to create one of his unexpected events that shape life and lead to what seems a very tidy resolution of the problems in Beard’s life. In the remaining two parts we see that the scientist has not learned anything from this experience and that his difficulties have only been postponed.

The author captures beautifully the situation of a scientist who has established his reputation for theoretical work being promoted into a position where administrative and practical skills and experience are required. Beard has few original ideas and has to depend on the assistance of investors, managers and administrators of limited probity. As the novel progresses he gets more obese, another reference to mankind’s dependence on over-consumption, and ignores the ministrations of his doctors. His affairs continue apace and he finds himself unable to relate to anyone, included his young daughter.

The underpinning arguments about global warming and scientific and technological attempts to deal with it are presented with various degrees of clarity, although they may be too much for some readers. The bureaucracy, hype, global competition and occasional exhilaration of everyday science are all realistically presented and there is the expected contrast between hardworking, practical science undergraduates and their essay-writing equivalents in arts departments. Some of the best writing, when it isn’t focusing on his bed-hopping, is about Beard’s childhood and time at university when he was still motivated by the wonders and possibilities of science.

Beard is not an engaging character and his science will be a barrier to some readers – hence perhaps the wide variation in reviews. This is not one of McEwan’s best books but there is still much to admire.
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on 5 August 2017
It is a witty story about a winner of the Noble Price in physics. Michael Beard is in its middle ages and had several marriages behind him. His current wife is Patrice. She had a affair with the total opposite to him. He is a lower skilled worker. Twenty years younger than Michael and better shaped. He is very upset about the relationship and he must invent a one night stand to get him back to her mind. The separation of bed and life brings a funny moment to the relationship. They live in the same house which turns out to be a little strange and had its conflicts. Michael works in a new institute for renewable energy. The young assistance is very comical droll to him because the young people dress and speak different as the older people does. The task is to develop economic solutions for the daily practice in energy technologies. In the field of renewable energies it is a constant competition between the different technologies. They work on a project in the field of wind turbines. The new assistant Tom is fixed with the ideas of sun energy development and he supports the idea to Michael in every second of the day. Michael is very upset about his assistant, but he wants to keep up the manners. He suffers from the people he worked with and his wife does the same, but he never wants to give up any fight he takes. He resists them all. AN expedition takes him to the Arctic. There it happens, what a man most fears. He is afraid of ice bears and not fit for the moment to survive. It is full of humor and very witty told. Back at home, he is determined to change his life. He finds Tom in his bathrobe in his house. An accident solves the problem for him. He got everything matched and Reynold, the lover of his wife, get sued for the misfortune.
The second part begins five years later. He is on a flight to a conference in London. The depiction of the landscape is beautifully told. Excellent is the battle in a train where he fights with a passenger about the chips. A very good portrait of the dominance of man in society. What had he done? He stole the idea from Tom to make some money. He fights with a woman on the street and he founds a new love. Melissa Brown is her name. The rest is about her pregnancy.
The third chapter begins in the early college days. His early relationship and then he turns four years further. Michael had a young daughter and he lives separated from Melissa in the USA. He had a new scientific project to solve the energy problem, but it doesn’t turn out well. Reynold gets from the prison and is looking for Michael.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 May 2017
I am great fan of Ian McEwan and I have read most of his books. None of his stories are similar and I rate Atonement as my favourite and his best. Notwithstanding there are always a few which, in my view do not hit the mark. This is one of them.

The prose is excellent but at times I really wished the book would speed up. I like descriptive writing but at times I was under the impression that Mr. McEwan was righting descriptive text as he was not sure where the story was going. A number of times I was close to giving up but I am pleased I finished the note.

There are a number of good things about the book. The twist near the end when the man accused of murder of Beard's wife's lover turns up and states something which you will never guess was a good point. On the downside the same character leaves in a car with the employers of Beard and a solicitor but there is no explanation or implication why.

The book has a rather abrupt end too but you can live with that as the novel leaves you with, I am pretty sure, what will occur to Mr Beard in may different ways.

Well not the best but please I got it finished. now onto his over Saturday. By the way I recommend the Cement garden, Atonement, Sweet Tooth and the Children's which again has a nice twist.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 April 2017
If you've read a handful of reviews you probably already know everything that happens in the book but I stick with my policy of revealing the absolute minimum. The one thing you need to know in order to decide whether to read the book is this: it is about a nobel physics laureate who is far from likeable. His character, well drawn and utterly convincing, is probably the single most common reason for the negative reviews. A novel which presents from start to finish the viewpoint of an objectionable individual is bound to be hard to swallow. This is to a large extent made up for by the dark humour which, while not laugh-aloud, is poignant and delightfully observed.

I found it well written and well researched. Never mind the validity of the protagonist's theories themselves, the descriptions of scientific life are excellent and there is much discussion of physics that shows a depth of understanding that most novelists would never aspire to (I say that with the benefit of some expertise in the topics discussed).

For the above reasons I give it 5 stars but that doesn't absolve it criticism. It felt to me like a series of episodes of which the quality matches his best writing but these are strung together by passages of literary glue that don't stick well.

If you haven't read any of his novels, I wouldn't recommend this one to start. My favourite is Enduring Love. Saturday would also be a good choice.
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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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