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Solar [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Ian McEwan
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (254 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 30, 2010
The literary event of the season: a new novel from Ian McEwan, as surprising as it is masterful.

Michael Beard is a Nobel prize–winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions, and half-heartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. While he coasts along in his professional life, Michael’s personal life is another matter entirely. His fifth marriage is crumbling under the weight of his infidelities. But this time the tables are turned: His wife is having an affair, and Michael realizes he is still in love with her.

When Michael’s personal and professional lives begin to intersect in unexpected ways, an opportunity presents itself in the guise of an invitation to travel to New Mexico. Here is a chance for him to extricate himself from his marital problems, reinvigorate his career, and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster. Can a man who has made a mess of his life clean up the messes of humanity?

A complex novel that brilliantly traces the arc of one man’s ambitions and self-deceptions, Solar is a startling, witty, and stylish new work from one of the world’s great writers.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the afterglow of winning a Nobel Prize, Michael Beard lives a dismal life marked by multiple marriages, figurehead positions, and his own gluttony. However, after his most recent wife leaves him, Beard attempts to start living life to the fullest. He stumbles into this new life with a great deal of fanfare and catastrophe: covering up murder, nearly losing his penis to frostbite, and devising a plan to harness the power of the sun to save the planet. Roger Allam's English accent and gravelly voice balances a range of characters and emotions, especially Beard's arrogance and self-righteousness. More importantly, Allam's straightforward delivery of Beard's zany adventures enhances the humorous quality of McEwan's text. A Doubleday hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 1).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Critics expressed decidedly mixed opinions about McEwan's latest work--and perhaps it's no surprise that he was better-reviewed on his UK home front. While most critics on either side of the pond praised the author's intelligent plot (especially his command of science) and ample storytelling gifts, the majority agreed that Solar is not his best novel to date. A few commented that the several narrative strands, which take place over more than a decade, do not cohere; Beard's jaunt to the North Pole, for example is interesting but tangential. Tired jokes, a rushed climax, and Beard's own piggish character felt claustrophobic to others. But most contentious of all was the satirical, comic tone superimposed on the very serious subject of climate change. Though Solar is a worthy inquiry into truth, morality, and the future of humanity, some critics could not get past McEwan's approach.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385533411
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385533416
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (254 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
154 of 169 people found the following review helpful
If you scan the large body of comments placed here, and if you track down the published reviews of major book critics, you'll find that reactions to McEwan's new novel have been -- to use a word from the lexicon of the book's physicist protagonist -- polarized. Many reviewers, especially the British establishment critics, declared "Solar" a delightful work by a master, well worth your while. Others, especially on this side of the pond, vented their disappointment, perhaps best expressed by an online critic who headlined his review: "A Flabby Character Portrait."

With the verdict on the book's merits a split decision, it doesn't seem useful simply to add to the chorus of contradictory conclusions ("Yes, it's brilliant!" "No, it's a waste of your time!"). Instead, let me offer some guidelines for you to consider if you're thinking of reading "Solar."

- Are you expecting an experience comparable to McEwan's recent novels? If so, be forewarned that "Solar" is not cut from the same cloth. In the best of his recent works, McEwan provides readers with the supreme pleasure of a plot and characters that fully seize your consciousness and sympathy. He composes set pieces with such fine craftsmanship that you forget you are engaged in the act of reading. You lose awareness of the author's guiding hand. These are the moments readers long for: being pulled forward by a frictionless, seemingly unmediated flow of story and emotion. The opening chapter of "Enduring Love" and parts of "Saturday" achieve this magical state. Many readers, myself included, experienced this phenomenon most memorably amid the sweep of "Atonement". So a red flag must be raised this time: if you pick up "Solar," do not expect to enjoy anything similar.
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228 of 253 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant satire February 25, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
McEwan's latest novel skewers fanatics, libertines, and the god-headed media, as well as taking an unapologetic stab at the politics and religiosity of 21st century science. He reveals the folly of doublethink, groupthink, and egomania in a ferocious satire of many-layered complexity. When you close the pages of the book, you are apt to appreciate it more as it settles into the parts of your brain that mingle literature with social commentary. The entertainment value is actually eclipsed by its brilliance, the dazzling rays reaching out to prior gems and reflecting an awful lot of sublime light. It's cheeky, satirical, uncomfortable, and to some readers, it will be controversial.

Our unsympathetic protagonist is Michael Beard. (I note that the name is no accident, a beard being a person that is used by someone else to cover something up, and Michael meaning someone who is like God.) Michael is a 50-something former Nobel laureate, resting on his fleshy laurels from twenty-two years ago, where he stood on the shoulders of Einstein and proposed a scientific "Conflation Theory" that was trailblazing at the time. Now, he tours around the globe giving lectures and consults for a large fee, and he sits idly as a member of a board at a center for renewable energy in the UK. His main pursuit is women, and he pursues them with -aholic depravity. As the novel opens, his fifth marriage is falling apart due to his infidelities. But this time, his wife got the last word by having some side dishes for herself and leaving him labeled as the cuckold.

Michael is a bozo with a brain. He is selfish, hideous, immoderate, and amoral.
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82 of 89 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining satire March 6, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I've spent the past 20+ years working at the margins of academia, currently work at a scientific research institute, and live with someone in the solar energy field, so when I read the blurb about Ian McEwan's new novel, I couldn't resist ordering it. Although I'd never read any of his books before, I knew his reputation, so I figured it would be worth the read.

And by and large, it is, if only for his scathing satire of the scientific world, with all its egos, posturing and pretensions. I was mightily impressed not only with McEwan's grasp of the pettiness, jealousy and dysfunction that are so prevalent among the uber-educated, but also with the extensive research that obviously went into his descriptions of alternative energy technologies and solar energy in particular.

The catch, however, is that his protagonist, Nobel laureate Michael Beard, is a thoroughly repellent character, and what I found laugh-out-loud funny in the beginning became increasingly tedious as the book wore on. In tone, Solar is vaguely reminiscent of Tom Sharpe's books, only darker and a whole lot more literary. A brilliant physicist in his younger days, who has been coasting for years on his one big breakthrough and the Nobel it earned him, Beard is a compulsive philanderer whose fifth marriage is on the rocks. Amoral and utterly selfish, Beard engages in a series of self-serving and self-destructive actions that grow increasingly predictable throughout the book, until the chickens come home to roost in the final segment. (It's worth noting that contrary to the promotional blurb, only the final third of the book is set in New Mexico. And a small gripe: McEwan could have used a little minor editing to eliminate the Britishisms in the dialogue of his American characters.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Exasperatingly funny and patheticly sad story of a hasbeen scientist
I really enjoyed this very disagreeable but sadly humorous main character. Yes, we've all been there, but hopefully we don't take it quite so far.
Published 7 days ago by C. C. Selavy
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended
This novel is a fascinating portrait of a man who on one hand is a genius and on the other hand a psychological disaster. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Johann David Renner
3.0 out of 5 stars Was difficult to get interested into it
I love the author - but I could not get into this book of his.
Published 19 days ago by Daniele Collignon
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it, the cautionary story of a rotten but ordinary man
As always, McEwan delivers, as always the end is if not surprising, at least well merited. The writing is, as always impeccable. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Angela G
1.0 out of 5 stars Like being stuck in a room with someone you don't like for too long.
I never have gotten in to books where the main character is someone I can't sympathize with or identify with. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Marylaine H. Driese
1.0 out of 5 stars I thought it was a true story, but it ...
I thought it was a true story, but it turnout to be an ugly novel about an ugly man. Do not read!
Published 4 months ago by A. Bird
1.0 out of 5 stars horrible
0 stars. unbelievable contrast to some of his excellent books. I cant imagine why he wrote this one. shame on you.
Published 4 months ago by Arthur Colman
3.0 out of 5 stars The Oil Fails the Mechanism
An amusing novel, in which the somewhat clunky cogs of plot are lubricated with humorous observations about the commercialisation of the Religion of Climate Change, the dopier... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Lesley Jenkins
3.0 out of 5 stars no page turner, but entertaining nonetheless
Character development is excellent. I just found this author last week and will start a third book by McEwan because of his writing style.
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny send-up of global warming
This is a very funny send-up of the global warming cult in particular and government-dependent scientific research in general. Read more
Published 5 months ago by DickStanley.
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More About the Author

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children's novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His other award-winning novels are The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, and Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize.

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Topic From this Discussion
Hey, guess what?
No one cares.
Feb 25, 2010 by Harkius |  See all 6 posts
Solar spoiler
That was exactly the assumption I made. But it was a Soprano's-style ending, so maybe I'm wrong.
May 15, 2010 by D. Athans |  See all 3 posts
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