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Solar Paperback – March 8, 2011
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
As a strong prose stylist, McEwan's books are always interesting to read and there are well-done features to this story. In it, he shows his facility with modern science and its impact on social problems, something he's done in previous books as well. This time around, the subject is global warming. Wisely, he stays away from taking a specific stance on the issue even as Michael Beard, his Nobel prize-winning physicist lead character, takes a "lucky" opportunity to explore the issue in his work, thereby putting it before the reading in a subtle way.
On the other hand, this book suffers from two features also present in some of his previous novels, but not to the extent that they impact the story as negatively as they do here. The first is a plot point. Like many excellent novelists, McEwan's novels often turn on a strange event or an odd, coincidental encounter. Sometimes this works very well--I am thinking of Briony's lie in Atonement, for example. Sometimes this works less well, as in the break-in that nearly ruins the last quarter of his otherwise excellent book, Saturday. (Spoiler alert-->) Here, we have an accidental death that for reasons I still don't quite understand or believe, Beard disguises as a murder. Unfortunately, this happens rather early in the story, is important for everything that follows, and, therefore, decreases whatever enjoyment can be found in the rest of the book.
The second problem is something that bothers me personally, but may be less important to other readers. I do not like books where there is, essentially, not a single likeable character with hardly even a redeeming quality. Michael Beard, for example, is almost completely pathetic--a Nobel prize-winner living off his laurels, guilty of intellectual theft, a serial divorcer, a serial adulterer, an absent father, obese, slovenly...Just an all-around poor specimen of a human being. As Beard is the overwhelming personality in this novel, it is rough going, but even the minor characters--mean-spirited ex-wives, abusive boyfriend of ex-wife, pathetic girlfriends, abandoned daughter, grasping colleagues--there's barely a thing to like about the bunch. These are not people with whom I want to spend my time.
Which is too bad, because McEwan's talent is immense. Even with my disappointments, I had no trouble making it to the end of the book. I am hoping, however, he reins in some of his impulses next time around for a tighter, more pleasurable experience.
Other reviews have criticized the nature of the principal character but though he has his faults -- and they're pretty nasty ones -- he's also smart and self confident. And, after all, we must cut him some slack. In physics, when you're fifty or so, you're not only over the hill, you're WAY over the hill. Physicists' careers don't follow the same trajectory as that of Grand Masters who can play tournament-level chess into their 80s.
It sounds rather dismal, I know, but underneath it all, it's actually quite funny in a very understated and British way. It reminded me a little of "The Ginger Man", not in style but in its general deadpan perspective on human nature. (There are few grace notes in the prose.) I'll give just two examples of the comedy, one subtle and the other obvious.
Before boarding his train, Beard buys a package of potato chips ("crisps") and looks forward to some self indulgence as he bundles his luggage into the racks and sits down at a table across from a young man in punk garb. Beard gazes with eager anticipation at the package of potato chips on the table. The man across from him reaches forward and rips open the pack. Shocked, Beard stares at him, extracts a few chips and begins to chew. The other man does the same. This silent contest continues until Beard detrains, at which point he discovers his own bag of chips in his overcoat pocket.
Example two. Beard is on some arctic expedition that requires multiple bulky layers of clothing in a climate where the temperature is 20 degrees below zero. Half way to his destination he has to pull his snowmobile over and relieve himself, removing both pairs of gloves and struggling to open his zippers before his fingers freeze. His fingers don't freeze but his penis sticks to one of the zippers and he must pour brandy over it to free it. However, his penis is not only white but bone white, like a Christmas tree ornament. He tucks himself back into his clothing and mounts his snowmobile. He hears something in his lap crack. As he bounces along, he's able to feel an ice-cold cylindrical object wriggling down the inside of his trousers. He gives this development a good deal of thought before he reaches a point at which he can remove his clothing and find out what it is.
I'll leave it at that. It's not a very long book and I found it to be very amusing at time, with some pathos mixed in. There is an extensive section of acknowledgements, unusual in a novel, that includes physicists and cites some of the professional literature.
The writing itself certainly won't disappoint for those who are fans. The story is expertly crafted and, at times, suspenseful. The syntax is always surprising, and the insight into human nature is as real as ever.
For some reason I just didn't feel all that satisfied when I reached the end. The plot is clever, but, ultimately, not very compelling. I found the protagonist to be so unlikeable that I was relieved to be done with him.
This is one of those novels that you respect but you just don't like very much, if that makes sense.