I was very disappointed by this. Even if, as some reviewers claim, it's a cunning satire on how the world, like Beard, is sleep-walking to an oblivion of its own making, this is an overlong and very dull, flat portrayal. I constantly had to urge myself on, through frankly an unrealistic plotline, a unpleasant central character, and little in the way of saving grace throughout this humdrum journey.
McEwan seems to forget the importance of 'showing' rather than 'telling' and his inclusion of lengthy speeches by Beard are an exercise in how to disengage a reader.So many of the characters appear two-dimensional, there is little tension in the plot, and I found it hard to believe that this was written by someone who I have always admired as a writer, from his short stories to novels of depth & imagination such as 'Atonement' and 'Saturday'.
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?
Michael Beard's defining moment as a Nobel Prize-winning physicist is long past, and we find him riding the crest of the fallen wave when the novel opens. Middle-aged, grossly overweight, chronically philandering, and with four failed marriages under his belt, Beard finds himself at the receiving end of betrayal when wife Number 5 cheats on him with his own house contractor. From this sorry start on, the reader's impressions of McEwan's protagonist sinks further when he takes the ultimate revenge on his wife's lover when he takes advantage of an unfortunate accident, and steals a dead colleague's research to pass as his own work in an attempt to reignite his flagging career.
For such a loathsome character, McEwan, while maintaining an objective stance, manages to instill some comic sympathy for Beard, especially in moments and instances when he (often accidentally) mans up, for example, to take on his wife's lover and crumbles with humiliating results, or when he delivers an ill-timed speech which leads to a spiral of events leading to his discredit and public revulsion, even as he variably tries to coolly brush it off, and brace himself in self-important anticipation to read news about himself.
Hopelessly irresponsible, and irredeemably immature, Beard finds that the past (though not necessarily glory) does eventually catch up with him. McEwan's writing is always precise and incisive, and one can always appreciate the careful research he does for the subject matter he deals with, in this instance, artificial photosynthesis, that lends some gravitas to Beard's own field of work, without overwhelming non-science aficionados, which features in parts of the book when Beard is not gorging on artery-clogging junk food or indulging in his lustful escapades.
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.
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.
Can this be the person who wrote such masterpieces as Atonement and Enduring Love and the crisply written n Saturday. As a venture into comedy it fell completely flat. Not funny, pedestrian plot and boring.
A mere 270+ pages but it reads like it was much much longer - what a disappointing read - I won't bore you with a long review as the reviews below this do it well. Just expected so much more and was let down.
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.
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.
This was my first audio book and I loved it. Michael Beard is my most favourite fictional character ever, he is so real, so awful. Unfortunately for me, this is the audio book by which I judge all other audio books and nothing has come close - despite having listened to some good books with good narrators (not to mention one, Will Self, for which I wish the return policy had been in place). The narrator, Roger Allam, is fantastic. I didn't realise how good until I had listened to several other books, but there you are. So, my search continues, I hope to come across another Solar soon.