Synopses & Reviews
An engrossing, satirical and very funny new novel on climate change.
Michael Beard is in his late fifties; bald, overweight, unprepossessing — a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions and half-heartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. An inveterate philanderer, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. But this time it is different: she is having the affair, and he is still in love with her.
When Beard's professional and personal worlds are entwined in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself, a chance for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster.
With a global scope, Solar is a comedy dealing directly with the crises of today. A story of one man's ambitions and self-deceptions, it is a startling and stylish new departure in the work of one of the world's great writers.
About the Author
IAN McEWAN is the author of two collections of stories and eleven previous novels, including Enduring Love, Amsterdam, for which he won the Booker Prize in 1998, Atonement and, most recently, On Chesil Beach.
Reading Group Guide
1. Examine the character of Michael Beard, described in the novel's opening sentence as "Vaguely unprepossessing, bald, short, fat, clever… stricken". What do you think are Beard's virtues, and what are his vices? Is it possible to view him as a hero, or anti-hero?
2. Solar takes as its main theme climate change, and the immense difficulties in tackling it. What do you think the novel has to say about climate change, and contemporary efforts to combat it?
3. Jonathan Raban has described Ian McEwan as "the best realist novelist alive." Do you think that Solar confirms this evaluation? If so, in what ways?
4. A Nobel Prize-winning physicist dedicated to fighting global warming, and an "emblem of instincts that have brought our species to its present hazardous state". What do you believe the author is articulating about society and climate change through the character of Michael Beard?
5. "I actually find novels that are determined to be funny at every turn quite oppressive." (Ian McEwan, Guardian interview)
Given the sober themes of Solar - the threat of climate change, murder, plagiarism, adultery - to what extent do you view it as a "comedy"?
6. To what extent is Solar a tragedy?
7. "It's good to get your hands dirty a bit and to test how you see things at a given point. And it's very pleasing after writing something like Atonement or On Chesil Beach, which are historical, to get involved in some plausible re-enactment of the here and now."
To what extent do you see Solar as a contemporary novel? How far do you agree that it is a novel solely concerned with the problems of today?
8. "There was plenty behind me to make me feel that what had to be really radical in literature was the content, not the style" Gaining an early reputation for the controversial subject matter of his stories, how far do you believe Solar continues this tradition in the work of Ian McEwan?
9. Luck and coincidence play pivotal roles in Michael Beard'ss success over the course of the novel. To what extent do you see him as a man in control of his destiny? To what extent is he a victim of chance?
10. To what extent do you believe that Michael Beard suffers for his actions in Solar? Do you believe that he gets what he deserves by the novel's end?