Tuesday, April 20, 2010

REVIEW: Solar, by Ian McEwan

Solar, by Ian McEwan. Published 2010 by Random House.

Click here to buy Solar via IndieBound.org. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

Solar, Booker-prize-winning author Ian McEwan's latest novel, is a satire of science, academia and a certain type of aging Lothario- the faded celebrity. Michael Beard is a middle-aged, portly British scientist, a Nobel Laureate whose life, when we meet him, is on the downswing. His latest wife flaunts her infidelities with their contractor, he works at a depressing sinecure anticipating the end of the world via global warming and none of the young scientists he works with appreciates or respects him. Then, as tends to happen in McEwan's novels, something unfortunate happens to someone out of the blue. All of a sudden, everything changes, and all of his problems are solved at once.

Beard's career takes off as he develops a new method for harnessing solar energy. He's able to take revenge on his wife's lover. He becomes celebrated and loved. But all is not well, and the reader is left waiting to watch the train wreck to come- the moment when Beard's lies and frauds come together to destroy him. Beard's personal turpitude and messiness reflects his moral chaos; he gains vast amounts of weight, he lives in squalor and seeks to deprive his lover of the child she desperately wants. Food is Michael Beard's one true love, the only thing that comforts him and never deserts him, never cheats or lies or betrays. Take, for example, his loving description of one classic of the American family restaurant: "lozenges of orange-colored cheese dipped in batter, rolled in bread crumbs and salt, and deep-friend, with a creamy dip of pale green. Perfection, and in such quantity."

Michael Beard is not an easy man to like, and since the novel is told from his unreliable point of view, not liking him will mean not liking the book. I wasn't crazy about Beard, but I saw the book as a satire and Beard as a clown, albeit an unfortunate one set to live out his days in McEwan's cruel and merciless universe. I love McEwan's writing; pages turn effortlessly and the prose is slick and glossy. I wanted to see that moment when Beard's house of cards collapses and I like the way McEwan defies expectations when it does. Relatively mild in terms of violence and horror, Solar would be a great first McEwan; fans of his will enjoy the black humor and satire. Either way, it's a sharp-eyed winner of a novel.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

17 comments:

Hannah Stoneham said...

Sounds like an interesting read. I normally enjoy McEwan and I also quite enjoy the unreliable narrator motif - so I think I'll give it a go. Thank you for sharing a clearsighted review

Hannah

bermudaonion said...

You've convinced me - I've got to get hold of this book!

Kathleen said...

I have to out myself as someone who has yet to read his work...scandalous, I know!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I was looking forward to your review since I know how much you like McEwan and I sort of can't stand him. But I love being able to read a good review so at least I know what all the fuss is about!

Megan said...

Excellent review. I'm still not sure if I want to read this. Books with characters I can't like can be a bit of a struggle, but it does sound interesting, and at least I feel like I can make an informed decision now! ;-)

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

Wonderful review. I wanted to read this one too.

Dana said...

Thanks for the review - I've been curious about this one. I feel like I should read more McEwan (the farthest I've gotten is halfway through Atonement, ack), so it's good to know that this one might be a better introduction to his writing.

bookmagic said...

I'm still undecided on this one. I guess it will be an eventual read.

Zibilee said...

So, so excited to read this review! I love McEwan and have been wanting to go out and get this one since it came out. Good to know that it's a great read and that McEwan is in top form with it. I look forward to reading this one, and will have to let you know what I think of it. Wonderful review, Marie!

Sandra said...

Great review. You liked this one more than I did but I still can't wait for his next book.

Alayne said...

This is on my TBR. I've only read one book by McEwan (Enduring Love) and have been wanting to read more. Great review. :)

Alayne - The Crowded Leaf

Jeanne said...

Ooh, satire! This explains the strange and contradictory reviews I've been reading elsewhere!

jewwishes said...

I haven't started my book yet, but will do so soon, especially after reading your excellent review.

Amy said...

Great review! I felt the same way you did about Beard. I was surprised at much I laughed while reading this book!

-Amy
Life by Candlelight

eveningreader said...

Wonderful review! Although I found parts of this book quite funny (I admit to laughing out loud), I ultimately did not like the book much. You are right about Michael Beard--he is difficult to like--but I think I didn't like the book because I felt it had all been done before: DeLillo, Bellow, Roth, Wolfe. I still think he can write stunningly when he wants to though, and I hope to continue (this was only my second McEwan) with Atonement.

dolcebellezza said...

McEwan is such an incredible writer; Atonement is one of the few books I've read in which I experienced true anger (at Briony). Before I read Solar, though, I want to read On Chesil Beach. Perhaps this summer.

nanscorner said...

Great review! I've never read anything by McEwan, but I think it's time. I will have to check out this book.