Being enveloped in McEwan's witty and exquisite prose, beautifully narrated by Roger Allam, was luxurious. I'm glad I bought the audio version of this book. I thoroughly enjoyed Beard: what skill this author has, to draw a very flawed character so forgivingly and make him sympathetic. I loved the "set pieces", too (the ice story, and the packet of crisps). I have not enjoyed a work of literary fiction this much for ages! By the way, I am English: maybe that helps to tune in to the humor and style. Can't wait to see what my American husband thinks of it - he doesn't usually "get" British humor.
And that's not to decry readers of McEwan, by any means. McEwan was earlier known as Ian McAbre because of the odd and often disturbing turns his early novels would take. Like, Rushdie, it took McEwan a few go-arounds to reach massive critical success with -Atonement-, which is an excellent work, not only for story, but for its connections to British literary history.
-Solar- was hotly anticipated as McEwan's climate change book, but those hoping for a progressive position on the issue will be disappointed. McEwan puts forth the right science, but in a boor of a protagonist. Now, there's a difference between an anti-hero, like Leopold Bloom of -Ulysses-, or Patrick Kenzie of -Gone Baby Gone-, and just plain jerks like Michael Beard, the central character of -Solar-. Anti-heros are sympathetic, because they are good, yet flawed. Beard, on the other hand, is just a jerk. That doesn't make for much of a compelling narrative, and McEwan has a lot of rather petty fun setting up Beard in silly physical comedy (think throwing up, or getting, ahem, unfortunately exposed to Arctic climates, etc). This all comes with McEwan's typical dark twist: you slip on a banana peel, or, in this case, a bear skin rug, and instead of comedically crashing, you end up, well, dead and bleeding.
The plot is basically that Beard borrows some research amid being caught up in love triangles, then, years later, benefits from said research while being finally consumed by love triangles. None of these are especially convincing, though I've never found McEwan's characters (aside from -Atonement-) very believable (Perowne from -Saturday- being the least believable).
At the end of it all, I'm not sure what the point really was. Science helps us (as McEwan argues in -Saturday-), but can be corrupted by the scientist? Good causes aren't always backed by good people? Don't steal others research? I don't know.
McEwan completists should read it, as it has all the touchstones of vintage McEwan. And they'll likely enjoy it. But the odd sensibility combined with a dull, and finally unclear narrative, boor protagonist, and unbelievable events and supporting cast left me completely unsatisfied.
I had high hopes for this book, as I am generally fond of satire. However, this novel was by turns boring, depressing, and only occasionally funny. It is risky to have a main character who is unremittingly despicable, and for me this was the real deal breaker. A tight plot might have saved the story, but it wandered a lot, and many of the humorous incidents seemed to be forced into the plot, rather than being a natural part of it. I almost quit halfway through, but I kept going, hoping to get to the part that prompted the glowing reviews. In the end, I was left unsure as to the author's purpose and what he wanted to convey. Was I supposed to scorn scientists, or just recognize that egomaniacal jerks exist in all walks of life...
This is the best book I have ever read. Unbelievable. Not saying anymore-- don't want to let slip any spoilers. You should buy it today and listen to the entire thing as a whole. Absolutely stunning.
I find it very difficult to summarize my views about this book. McEwan is a superb writer; the prose in this novel is up to his usual stellar standards. There are some utterly brilliant set piece scenes. Yet, although McEwan apparrently considers this book, which looks at the life and machinations of a brilliant narcissistic scientist years after his most productive period, to be "comic," I found it impossible care a fig about a man who is as self-absorbed and oblivious to the needs and feelings of others (except to the extent they affect him) as his protagonist. I guess I'm glad I "read" it; but I felt the need to take a shower afterwards.
The flip side of Solar is the dark character of the 'hero.' I loved this book, far more than previous McEwan offerings. He perfectly captures the nasty points of sexist male academics. The crisp scene on the train made me laugh aloud. Just a wonderful listen, but maybe not one if happy fluffy stories are your kind of thing. Some of the humor may also appeal to my British and academic sides (I'm both). Great narration too.
This is one of the worst audio books that I have ever listened to. I totally didn't get the comedy aspect of this book. To me it was a boring tale of a hedonistic man. I kept hoping that he would do something to redeam himself.