Some people deserve everything horrible that happens to them. Michael Beard is definitely one of those people. Booker prize-winner Ian McEwan (Atonement, Saturday) has created the self-centered, loathsome character of Beard for his latest satirical novel, Solar, but you don’t really get the full effect of Beard’s appalling narcissism unless you listen to Roger Allam’s performance of the book.
Allam has one of those precise, slightly-condescending, upper-crust English accents that perfectly suits Beard’s character. You can clearly imagine Beard looking down his nose at everything the mere mortals around him say or do as Allam intones McEwan’s carefully chosen words. An award-winning stage actor who has also appeared in dozens of movies (The Queen, V for Vendetta) and television dramas, Allam specializes in portraying authoritative men with commanding stage presences. And like any great actor, Allam also manages to make us feel sympathetic for Beard a pompous, adulterous, Nobel Prize-winning physicist despite his monumental character flaws.
Without giving too much of the book’s ingenious plot away, Solar revolves around Beard’s marital troubles and his quest to discover an alternative energy source. Sounds noble on the surface, but Beard only really seems to care about finding a fashionable subject to research…while receiving a lucrative, six-figure paycheck for doing as little work as possible. The book may seem to jump at times from one location to the next, but McEwan weaves all the plotlines together in the final, brilliant chapter, set in the New Mexico desert. In the end, Beard and patient listeners are justly rewarded by McEwan in his latest, most amusing novel to date. Ken Ross
Universally acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest novelists, Ian McEwan is a Booker Prize-winning, best-selling literary master. He displays a fresh facet of his considerable talent in Solar, a satirical novel rife with blistering humor.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Michael Beard is fast approaching 60, a mere shell of the academic titan he once was. While his fifth marriage falls apart, Michael suddenly finds himself with an unexpected opportunity to reinvigorate his career and possibly save humankind from the growing threat of global warming.
This audio includes an exclusive interview with the author.
©2010 Ian McEwan (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
"A comedy every bit as brilliant as its title might suggest....Blazing with imaginative and intellectual energy, Solar is a stellar performance." (Sunday Times, London)
“A stunningly accomplished work, possibly [McEwan’s] best yet.” (Financial Times)
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
I noticed that many of the readers who hated this book gave up on it a couple of hours into it. I was ready to do so at a certain point in the book when something horrific is implied to have happened to the main character. I was disgusted and offended, but then came to realize that this was part of McEwan's humor. Very male humor, I might add. I am so happy I stuck with the book. It is smart and at times absolutely hilarious! The main character is not exactly likeable, I agree, but that's not the point! McEwan gets into some current debates about science and that political rhetoric that uses science to support one side or the other. Some very astute observations here, and well told, both by McEwan and by his reader, whose deadpan style is perfect for the genre.
I like books that have interesting characters and easy to follow plots. For example, Cormoran Strike, is a great character for me.
I was waiting for an action packed Michael Connelly type novel but it was very slow paced. The main protagonist was one of the most despicable humans ever portrayed in literature and it was hard to get used to him as being representative of the dark side of academia. It took me the entire book to finally get the humor of the book and it was one of those books that I really liked in retrospect. Its a worthwhile read but a reader has to go into it with the right attitude: its a comedy with a message on climate change.
Don't let the nay-sayers turn you away from this book! It's marvelous! Probably my favorite of all McEwan's books. (I do have them all)
I was not bored for one moment. This is a 'laugh out loud' hilarious, wonderfully witty book! It's full of surprise twists and turns that will keep you wondering what could possibly happen next to this character.
The only thing wrong with the book is that it has to end.
Sloooow moving story with descriptions so detailed that you forget what was being described. Who paid the professional reviewers to give this any positive comments?
Skip it - you'll be glad you did....
This book might be funny if read in a more understated way. It makes broad fun of a fairly despicable man and a wide range of things that probably deserve some deflating. However, the reader piles on, with every (and I mean every) sentence a degree of English upperclass sarcasm that removes any degree of fun from the humor. Like pinning an ugly cat to a wall and throwing snowballs at it...I couldn't watch, so I had to stop listening after a couple of hours. Does the reader think we can't get the point without being hit over the head? Buy the book...you'll probably enjoy it more.
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...
Very funny, but the guy is so hateful, you can't even pity him. My favorite is still "Saturday." This book is for serious fans, and I'm one.
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