Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Review of Solar by Ian McEwan

4 out of 5: Solar, Ian McEwan’s eleventh novel, follows the troubled career and love life of 53-year-old physicist Michael Beard. Beard won the Nobel Prize in physics for work he completed as a young man but, after five failed marriages, is now trapped in a decades-long slump of “no new ideas.” Living the life of an aimless bureaucrat saddled with speech commitments and honorary positions, Beard no longer resembles the “ethereal Beard of planetary renown” he once was: “It sometimes seemed to Beard that he had coasted all his life on an obscure young man’s work, a far cleverer and more devoted theoretical physicist than he could ever hope to be. ... [T]hat twenty-five-year-old physicist was a genius. But where was he now?”

Beard’s story takes a dramatic turn when he discovers a way to revitalize his career as a climate scientist by employing morally questionable tactics. Along the way, Beard’s bumbling antics and social awkwardness provide plenty of humorous set pieces. While laugh-out-loud funny, most of these incidents bear little relation to the primary action of the novel. Additional sidetracks slow the novel’s momentum, including numerous in-depth descriptions of Beard’s work on artificial photosynthesis as a way to save the earth from both global warming and the impending energy crisis. Despite the detours from the main story in Solar’s middle section, McEwan revives the novel’s quick pace in its final third as Beard faces ever increasing physical, mental, and financial dangers. Although Solar’s weak, overly-convenient ending fails to live up to the strength of the rest of the novel, it does deliver to Beard the comeuppance he deserves.


Greg Zimmerman said...

Woohoo! I've been so excited about this book for a long time, and very happy to see it's getting good reviews. The NY Times' Kakutani called it one of his "lesser efforts," but I always take her reviews with a grain of salt, 'cause she hates everything!

Thank you for the positive review - can't wait to get my copy!

bermudaonion said...

Sounds like another winner for McEwan!

Hannah Stoneham said...

Great review - thanks for sharing. I like McEwan and think he is a powerful writer - although sometimes I think that his talents are a little oversold. Looking forward to this one though.


nomadreader said...

I'm looking forward to reading this one. I know some have been disappointed, but I (somehow) have never read McEwan, so I think starting with a good not great novel may be the way to go. Thanks!

Zibilee said...

I am so, so excited about this book! I am a big McEwan fan and have been waiting for this book for quite awhile. I am glad that you mostly enjoyed it! I can't wait to see what I think of it.

Sandra said...

I've loved every McEwan novel I've read so far but this one didn't do it for me. Mea culpa really, as satire is not my thing. But I'm enjoying reading other peoples' takes on it. Thanks for reviewing it.