Solar is a hilarious, intellectual romp for our times. It's a satire that aims its shots in many directions: at the narrow worlds of academia and scientific research; at the New Age/hug-a-tree/love-can-save-the-world philosophy; at the idealism of the young and the cynicism of their elders; at the wheeling and dealing behind corporate American enterprise; at the inexplicable nature of love and its counterpart, lust.
Michael Beard, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, has been sitting on his laurels for years, working half-heartedly for a British energy center that sees wind energy as the future, spending more time mocking the "ponytails" (the young post-grad physicists who work under him) than developing new theories or resources. In his spare time, Beard has lumbered his way through five marriages and numerous affairs, and his penchant for alcohol, beef, pancakes, and crisps have added more weight to his physical profile than his professional one.
But then things start to happen--call them accidents or fate or coincidences, or just plain opportunities. And Michael Beard is there to pick up the pieces and use them to his best advantage.
I knew how dark McEwan could be, but I had no idea that he could be quite so funny. Several of the scenes, including the one on the Paddington train alluded to by others, had me actually laughing out loud.
I was delighted to find an interview of McEwan by his editor at the end. In it, he discussed his research process and the fact that he has already been approached by a number of physicists who claim they know upon whom he based the character of Beard (he claims it wawas his own creation, but that it's probably a "good thing" there are so many likely Beards out there rather than just one).
Solar is a smart, funny, and perceptive novel. Don't expect it to be another Atonement or On Chesil Beach; McEwan is attempting something entirely different here, and you will have to
There seems to be a run of Shakespearean adaptations in fiction of late. In addition to this one, I recently reviewed 'Iago' by David Snodden, and 'I, Iag'o by Nicole Galland. 'Macbeth: A Novel' is the collaborative creation of British crime writer A. J. Hartley and David Hewson, a professor of Shakespeare who writes thrillers in his spare time. Although I'm not a reader of either genre, I am a Shakespearean and know the play very well. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of 'Macbeth: A Novel'; after all, no one can improve upon Shakespeare, and many of the adaptations I've read are either laughable or maddening. So I was pleasantly surprised and even enjoyed this one--perhaps particularly because I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by Alan Cumming, who for once was free to revel in his glorious Scottish accent.
Hewson and Hartley stick pretty closely to the bare bones of the plot that we are all familiar with, but they take free reign in filling in the "offstage" details. For example, the first third of the book puts readers right in the middle of the civil rebellion and Norse invasion that have been going on as the play opens. We see Macbeth and Banquo fighting in the field; we see Macbeth's capture of the rebel Macdonwald, the blow-by-blow fight to his bloody death preceded by a verbal exchange that prefigures Macbeth's own treacherous acts. Shakespeare, on the contrary, perfunctorily has messengers deliver the news of Macbeth's victories to King Duncan. Back on the home front, the authors give Lady Macbeth a name of her own (Skena). They provide an answer to the oft-asked question, "Where are Lady Macbeth's children?" And they give us plenty of chat between the couple that helps us to understand the powerful forces between them. Interior flashbacks also flesh out the Macbeths' individual biographies, and frequently we're made privy as to what is going on in their minds. Hewson and Hartley imaginatively--but not fantastically--fill in the blanks: why exactly Macbeth turns on Banquo, what happens to Fleance after his father's murder, who the weird sisters are and how they came to be witches, what daily life is like at Macduff's castle before the assassins arrive, and more.
I won't be recommending this book as a classic, or even a must-read. The style is probably better suited to crime novels and thriller: a bit too 'colorful' and 'overwrought,' shall we say, for my taste. Yet it fits just fine with the story of Macbeth. This was a fun piece to breeze through at the end of the semester, which is always a stressful time for me. If the idea of a thriller-crime novel version of Macbeth, read in a charming and authentic Scottish accent by a fine actor, appeals to you, I say, go for it!
Initially, I was totally captivated by this story of Jean Padgett, a young English woman working in Malaya who became a Japanese prisoner of war. The hardships that the women and children endured during their trek to one nonexistent prison camp after another and the alternating kindness and inhumanity of their captors kept me reading (well, listening; this was an audiobook) at a rapid pace. Under such an unlikely circumstances, one wouldn't expect to fall in love, but we do sense that it is happening to Jean when she means a resourceful Australian named Joe Harmon. But the war intervenes . . .
The novel opens with the narrator, a solicitor, tracking down Jean to tell her that she has just come into an inheritance, and it is to Noah that Jean tells her story. After hearing all she endured, he could hardly be more surprised when Jean tells him her plans for the money: to return to Malaya.
I won't spoil the book by telling what happens next, but there are quite a few surprises in store. I have to admit that the last third of the novel--the part that reflects the title--was somewhat less interesting to me. Still, this is one of those books whose title was familiar but about which I knew nothing, and overall, it was worthwhile.
Very well read by Neil Hunt. He does the accents well and isn't roo heavy-handed in reading the female roles.
Khadra has chosen an interesting subject: the reaction of an Israeli-Palestinian doctor to learning that his wife was a suicide bomber. Unfortunately, the novel is fairly predictable, the characters stereotypical and not particularly believable, and the writing (or perhaps it's the translation)--well, it's rather overwritten. I wanted to like this book and wanted to feel that I was coming to some important point or understanding from the experience of reading it, but (like Amin) I guess I never really got it, aside from some rather florid and generic statements about nationalism and humiliation.
A charming novel imagining the events that led to Pope's writing of "The Rape of the Lock." While the characters weren't very developed, I believe that the author may have been trying to recreate the superficiality that was so much a part of London society in the early eighteenth century. She gets the tone of conversation just right, with everyone genteely battling to be wittier than the next person and to be the center of polite attention. The continual jockeying for position among the belles, beaux, and literati seems appropriate, and the characters would have been more concerned with appearances and reputations than depth of character. Not a great novel, but an intriguing one.
The third volume in Trollope's Barchester Chronicles, is, for the most part, a typical tale of young lovers separated by the rigid class distinctions of Victorian England. Frank Gresham, whose father has mismanaged the family fortune and is on the verge of losing his beloved estate, is expected to marry for money, but he has long loved Mary Thorne, the titleless, penniless niece of the local doctor. It all turns out well for them in the end, of course, as in such novels it usually does; but it's the many sidetracks and delightful characterizations and the way these are all intertwined that make so enjoyable. The perpetually intoxicated Sir Roger Scatchard, for example, a murderer who did his time, made a fortune in the railroads, and was granted a baronetcy, and his lovable, unaffected wife, Lady Scatchard, who enjoyed life much more as a wet nurse. Lady Gresham, who would willingly marry her children to nobodies--as long as they came with enough cash to save the estate. The down-to-earth Miss Dunstable, heir to the Oil of Lebanon fortune, who knows a golddigger when she sees one and encourages Frank to go with his heart. Uber-snob Amelia DeCourcey, who persuades her cousin Augusta Gresham that it is her duty to rejct the proposal of the lawyer, Mr. Gazeby--and then promptly marries him herself. Doctor Thorne himself takes the part of the voice of reason throughout. A rather predictable plot but still an enjoyable read.
The first of the Barchester series, The Warden seems obviously designed to set up the next five novels. It's fine on its own, but not the best of Trollope by any means. Mr. Harding, warden of an almshouse for 12 elderly disabled men, finds himself the target of a lawsuit promoted by his daughter's admirer. The claim is that the benefactor's will did not mean for the church to use the bequest to fund a warden, but that it was meant to go directly to the 12 men. Complicating the situation is the fact that the archdeacon, married to Harding's elder daughter, insists on fighting the suit, which gets nasty in the public press. The plot focuses on how Mr. Harding, a genuinely kind and good man, deals with the stress and his own conscience, and how his daughter Eleanor struggles between her fierce love for her father and her growing affection for John Bull, the lawyer behind the lawsuit.
Let me begin by saying that I'm a sucker for novels written in letters, as this one is. This is a lovely little tale set mostly on the island of Guernsey, where the main character, a writer, has come in search of a subject for her next book. Like Juliet, I did not know much about the Channel Islands and how the residents lived under Nazi occupation during World War II. The characters were unique but generally beliveable. I might have liked the novel even better without the pat romantic ending, but I still give it a thumbs up.
My thoughts on this one are mixed. I might have rated it higher, but the unrealistic conclusion--a bit of a deus ex machina--lowered my opinion. Barry creates a fascinating character (or should I say victim?) in Roseanne, a 100-year old woman who has spent most of her life in an asylum that is about to close. The story is told from two points of view: Roseanne's, mostly in the form of pages she has written and concealed; and Dr. Grene, who is in charge of assessing Roseanne for either release or transfer to another institution. The cruelty and prejudice of mid-20th century rural Ireland permeates the novel, and at times, the suffering of Roseanne is almost too harsh to believe. I was left to wonder whether and how one person (Mrs. McNulty, Roseanne's one-time mother-in-law) could have had such moral power over an entire town. Perhaps Barry was trying a little too hard to write a hand-wringingly tragic Irish novel, so it seems he decided to leave his readers with an impossibly happily ever after ending.
This was a fairly typical Hardy novel: misplaced affections, broken hearts, overindulgent parents, class divisions, long lost lovers reunited, hints of scandal, etc. There's a bit of Gabriel Oak in Giles Winterborne (and, for that matter, a bit of Bathsheba Everdene in Grace Melbury). Still, I enjoyed the novel, which I listened to on audio, read by the wonderful Samuel West. The secondary female characters--particularly the spunky and loyal Marty South, but also Felice Charmond and Suke Damson--give the novel an added charm, but the conflicted, rather immature, manipulating and rather easily manipulated Grace Melbury really just needed a good smack.
If you think of Rose Tremain as mainly a writer of historical novels, this one will surprise you as much as it did me. In fact, I kept forgetting that I wasn't reading a novel by Ian McEwan. It's a coming-of-age story and a mystery of sorts, involving a 13-year old English boy and a 40-ish Russian medieval romance writer. Lewis Little is spending the summer in France while his mother, a Scottish beauty, translates Valentina's latest work. He becomes obsessed with Valentina--an obsession whose depiction seemed very McEwanesque to me. Then, suddenly, Valentina disappears, and Lewis, not willing to leave matters to the police, determines to find her . . .
I certainly didn't enjoy this as much as Tremain's historical novels like Music and Silence or Restoration, and I'm not much of a one for mysteries/crime novels. But overall, it kept my interest. And Samuel West is myh favorite narrator, which helped.
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