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3.5 out of 5 stars
Solar
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
This one I gave two stars for a couple of reasons. The story was wrapped in a level of science that I did not need to have to understand the characters or the plot. This labyrinthic road of physics that the author continuously walked down resulted in many torpid areas within the storyline. As I stepped away from this story there were no characters I wished to take with me in memory. There were only a handful of characters all without depth while the leading character, Michael, is an antagonist to those in his life. The reason I gave it two stars and not one was due to the fact that there is a moral to the story. This is a story of a man, Michael, living and moving through society with only the concept of "me". It is a perfect example of someone with an analytical mind making pragmatic decisions in his life, without the inconvenience of having sincere empathy toward those in his life that might be affected. This is something I see often in everyday life. As a result from Michael's decisions in life he becomes very successful, but with an air of melancholy about him subdued throughout the years by gluttony. In the end this is a story about a man's ways being his own undoing.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Solar is far inferior to McEwan's superb novels: Atonement, Enduring Love, On Chesil Beach, and his Booker Prize winner Amsterdam. Solar lacks the subtle humor, dark twisted strands, and deep psychology of McEwan's best works.

The main (and really only) character Michael Beard, the Nobel laureate physicist, is a pathetic jerk who is intent on screwing up his life and himself. We witness him steadily deteriorating even as he's trying to save the planet from global warming. He's getting fatter, stuffing himself with junk food, and getting in deeper with his petty sexual affairs going awry. Five divorces to his discredit and he's still obsessively pursuing lots of casual sex in inappropriate ways. He's a mess, a slob, and getting slobbier.

There's no point in going on about all of Beard's screw ups. It'd just be a spoiler anyway.

And the symbolism, or metaphor, McEwan is pushing is trite and obvious in any case. I suppose Beard symbolizes "the planet" we're supposed to be saving and how we are screwing up while trying to save it. Like Beard we lack simple will power to do what's right and good for us and the planet. Yawn.

The plot, characters, and descriptions are exaggerated, unrealistic, and unconvincing. Some things are trivial like Beard's colleagues calling him "Professor Beard" or "Professor." Professional colleagues would not address each other this way. Even post-docs working for a leader would be on first name basis. Anyway, this is one tiny thing among vast flotillas of unconvincing stupidities. Really, in the end, none of Solar made any sense. Even Beard who is almost an interesting character fails to convince. There is no such person, there couldn't be. And let me be very clear: I did not find this to be gripping, interesting, enlightening exaggeration or fantasy--it's just drippy.

Skip this one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
I go in and out with McEwan. I thought "Atonement' flat and dull, could never understand the fuss. Thought 'On Chesil Beach' a perfect gem, beautifully simple, sad and moving. Picked up 'Solar' and thought at about page 40 or 50 that I was going to toss it. Kept going (I was travelling and didn't have another book) and found it had grabbed my attention. Now finishing it and thinking, what the hell is this thing? Seems to be a plea for something real wrapped in satire, told through the point of view of a completely repulsive human being, to the point of absurdity. Many critics and readers have hailed McEwan's research in this novel but I'm finding the research aspect very self-conscious and heavy going (look at me, I researched the science of solar energy! Look at all the words I use about it!). I'm far more interested in Michael Beard in relation to other people, perhaps only because the far degree to which McEwan takes his narcissim and physical self-destruction is just...funny. It's all just so absurd, which is what I like about it. But the structure is very odd (it kind of careens all over the world, for no real reason) and a reader might tire of Beard's astonishing degree of self-centeredness, particularly the way he uses women, very quickly. (Why any woman would even glance at the man makes me think this is a fairy tale more for men than women.) A book written by a master, but not a masterful book by any stretch.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is a semi-sort of allegorical tale with the childlike (the bad parts like self centered, no impulse control, lack of morals etc) Michael Beard wreaking havoc everywhere he goes as well as to himself. The world and Beard are going to hell in a basket, hand in hand.
Nothing wrong with that as a storyline but it just doesn't hold together. There are really good parts (after all McEwan can do set pieces as well as anyone) such as the section on when Beard met his first wife. This bit was excerpted in The New Yorker. About ten or so first rate pages and there are other really good parts but overall not compelling. I just wanted Beard to get run over by a bus after about page 8.
The physics was muddled (I have a PhD and know this stuff) while the descriptions of parts of academic life (I am a prof and know about this as well) are reasonably accurate (see Goldstein's Intuition for the best recent description of life in a modern lab).
I have a very high opinion many of McEwan's prior works (Atonement, Amsterdam, The Innocent, Black Dogs...) but can't recommend this one.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
Ian McEwan has specialised in tightly controlled, intricately crafted novels woven around fine structural architecture and precise language. In this novel, a departure from his existing work, he busts loose a little to concoct a rompy farce about an aging physicist who doesn't actually engage in much science but lurches around a series of comical events, mostly involving his string of unsuitable lovers, and tries to come up with a genius panacea to the overwhelming concern of our times: global warming.

The result is not a great success.

The start of the novel is pretty entertaining. Beard is set up as a portly, cerebral philanderer, who is suffering agonies as his young wife (whom he has already been unfaithful to several times), embarks on an affair with Rodney Tarpin - a builder. Physically (and also his physics career) decaying, he tries to find rejuvenation by embarking on a project to save the world through solar energy, after discovering a file left by an annoying colleague who dies in one of the novel's absurd set piece scenes.

The first section is the best bit. After that the novel suffers decay and entropy to rival Beard's own waistline engorgement (which, in turn, clearly serves as a metaphor for our junked and decaying planet, ever susceptible, if not to global warming, to the second law of thermodynamics). A series of comic set pieces are strung together. The setting ranges from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of New Mexico. Beard eats a lot, has more sex with ever expanding (literally) women, and tries to get his solar project off the ground.

There are some intelligent sections: such as the satire on certain sections of the left leaning academic community who pillory Beard from a post-modernist, constructivist standpoint, after he suggests fewer girls than boys may have an interest in physical sciences. But overall the farce is flabby more than funny, and I found the narrative becoming increasingly jaded.

The ending jolts to a quick halt. Whether you enjoy this novel depends on how compelling you find Beard as a character. Personally I think McEwan's experiment with the comic genre didn't really come off, and this novel would have been better suited as a serious, psychological drama about science and global warming, playing to McEwan's true talents.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 6, 2013
Format: Paperback
Michael Beard is a has been scientist who never was able to recapture his early moment of brilliance, instead he is living off his reputation with a series of figurehead jobs and speeches. Ian McEwen then proceeds to present his life of marital disasters, professional connivance, and gluttony to the supposed amusement of the reader, but I just found it a waste of time. Beard is such a figure of ridicule that I just found myself wishing for his comeuppance from such an early point in the novel that I was preoccupied with that idea to the point of distraction. Which may have been McEwen's goal, but I just found myself forcing my way through the book and that really shouldn't be the way you make it through a novel. There are a number of interesting looks at the scientific community that have some appeal, but it always returns to the unlikeable Beard and that ultimately proves to be a fatal flaw; too lame to be an effective anti-hero and not endearing at all, Beard just is an utterly useless character to build a novel on.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
I'm a McEwan fan, but I found Solar to be a major disappointment. Beard was such a reprehensible jerk of a character that I simply did not care about him, and none of the other characters were developed at all. I kept slogging away, hoping the book would get better, and it simply didn't. I kept waiting for Beard to have some kind of moment of redemption...I suppose that was the final line of the book, but even then it was ambiguous -- too little, too late. Sadly, this book may put me off future work by McEwan, as I have to wonder what grim depths of self-loathing may lurk in his psyche that would inspire him to put so much energy into such a construction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2012
Format: Paperback
I'm not sure why I bothered reading to the end. It wasn't that the main character is just plain unpleasant, I just didn't like the "whiny" tone to the book. The leap in time, the rather underwhelming "major event", and the rather unsophisticated explanation of events was at odds with McEwans attempt to include scientific principles to be more high-brow. These principles I was also quite uncertain as to whether I should treat this book as an education or not, as I just didn't trust the story. Maybe you just have to be a fat old scientist to appreciate any wry humour and scientific insight - it will bore most people to death.
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15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 28, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There's hardly anything surprising one could say about this lightweight, clockwork-plotted black comedy, except that it's among the most bitter and emotionless of Ian McEwan's many bitter, emotionless novels. All McEwan's usual virtues are in evidence here -- the intricately threaded plot, the gorgeously crafted sentences and paragraphs, the dark wit, the (albeit ostentatiously and sometimes badly researched) contemporary background -- and yet one could hardly care less about the whole affair, from start to finish, as there's nothing human about any of its characters.

Michael Beard, the novel's protagonist, is a Nobel physicist whose days of study are far behind him, and who at the novel's beginning serves only as a grant-and-lecture-circuit stuffed shirt of ever-increasing girth. As we follow him into the next ten years' bouts of womanizing, intellectual fraud, and worse crimes, the novel spends much of its time in Beard's head, but never does he develop much of a psychology, beyond an extraordinarily broad narcissism and a capacity for attractive self-delusion. There are other problems with the characterization, too: aimless, bumbling, and distractible, Beard is hard to credit even as a washed-up genius. And if the book's scientific background is credibly sketched -- the passages on physics, climate change, and alternative energy are quite economical and convincing -- it often, weirdly, gives very short shrift to the other of the Two Cultures, with some truly stale satires of "postmodern" relativism of the kind that last drew laughs in David Lodge's novels of the 1970s. And conversely, though the physicist Beard is meant to consider the humanities bunkum, his thoughts often sound implausibly novelistic, full of subtle observations and depths of psychological insight and verbal-metaphorical nuance that ought to be well outside the character's ken.

But the core problem here is simply that awaiting the delayed arrival of just deserts to the monstrous Beard, finally delivered with McEwan's customary narratorial art of smug superiority, is not enough to keep a reader's interest for very long. Fifty pages in we may be willing to laugh at an extended comic scene featuring Beard's mock-castration, but as Beard's self-deluding evils deepen (and are compensated by more serious impending punishments), no other character emerges to hold our interest, nor does any psychological depth or complication in Beard himself. (The constantly rotating cast of Beard's wives and mistresses is a particularly unfortunate choice, as none of them has time to develop an alternate perspective that might counterbalance Beard's self-regard.)

When his far more interesting novella On Chesil Beach emerged a year and a half ago, for the first time since Black Dogs it was possible to hope that McEwan had finally matured as a psychologist, becoming a creator of rounded, complex, human characters rather than the one-dimensional monsters that populated earlier books like Amsterdam. But here, it seems, he has instead reverted to type, elaborately and wittily punishing one more horrible but only thinly human creature. While the novel's prose is often lovely and its metaphorical and thematic craftsmanship often excellent, there is just nothing beyond these formal achievements for which to praise it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I'm not a die-hard McEwan fan, so there may be a little bias. Having said that, however, no one would deny that McEwan is a knowledgeable and talented writer.

Michael Beard is our protagonist. We get glimpses of omniscience by the author, but most of the book is written in Beard's POV. I tried to identify with him, though it's obvious from early on that he's not a virtuous or heroic character. In fact, I found it best to view Beard as a Buster Keaton mental type, despite his Nobel prize, and physically more of a Danny de Vito with even more pounds piled on. And with a British accent, of course.

He seems to be a failure at almost everything, so it's amazing to think that he was awarded the Nobel when he was younger. When the reader comes into his life, Beard's intellectual achievements seem to be in his past, and all he really cares about when we make his acquaintance is that he's losing his fifth wife because of his repeated infidelities And frankly it's hard to see him as a Casanova or a Lothario, since we're told he's short, fat, and bald.

The first part is probably the best, since some of the humor - intentional, I would think - had me sputtering with laughter. Probably the funniest example of Beard's ineptness is when he's in the Arctic Circle with a group of (non-scientists) people wanting to make statements about Global Warming. He has to don a heavy suit, a helmet and goggles, and gloves and boots that will supposedly protect him from the extreme cold as they venture out. He seems incapable of getting himself dressed for the environment and has to be helped by the guide for the day. And then when he gets on the snowmobile, which he likens to a motor bike, he's rushing along with fogged goggles, not sure where he's going, and he suddenly remembers he has to pee. Well, this leads to one slapstick episode after another, and when he finally has to relieve himself before his bladder bursts, he finds his organ frozen to his zipper! And on and on it goes.

I give the book 2 stars because of McEwan's knowledge and talent, and the humor in the first part. I can't give it more because I had to force myself to finish the book, when it left me with a blah feeling about the whole trip with this bozo. There were some good points Beard brought out when giving a speech about Global Warming (while he's resisting the urge to vomit the fishy meal he just ate), but throughout, the Beard character doesn't appear to take GW seriously at all, and it just presents an opportunity for him to make some lasting contribution in the scientific field. However, he couldn't even do that if it weren't for a "ponytail post-doc" who worked for his Center. I won't say what happened, in case some want to purchase the book because of the subject - Global Warming - and McEwan's reputation. But why did the author have to present such an unlikely and incompetent central character, who would certainly present challenges to readers other than myself? He's dishonest, lazy, likes to drink and eat unhealthful food, and yet we're expected to believe that this short, fat, bald guy - growing fatter and balder - is driven by testosterone to engage in indiscriminate sex with a variety of women. How DOES he do it? So that's not quite plausible.

When I read the last ten pages, the world seemed to be unraveling around Beard, and I found myself rooting for his demise, maybe from a heart attack or from the violent man he was largely responsible for getting imprisoned for eight years. I just wanted it to end, so I could put the book down and not give it another thought, and hope that the next book I read would be infinitely more satisfying. I know that some people say they love the book, so maybe it's largely a matter of taste, and my taste is not attuned to what is popular, but I was frankly disappointed. I thought, with McEwan's ability, and the seriousness of the subject, it should have been treated much better than it was. Distasteful protagonists seem to be in vogue lately.
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