cariola119, April 16, 2010
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Ian McEwan does it again! 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 old opportunities. And Michael Beard is there to pick up the pieces and use them to his best advantage.
I had no idea that McEwan 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 listened to an interview in which McEwan discussed his research process (which included not only reading about global warming and renewable energy but an extended stay in New Mexico and an arctic trip with a group of artists and scientists) 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 was his own creation, but that it's probably a "good thing" there are so many likely Beards out there rather than just one).
Overall, Solar is a smart, funny, and perceptive novel about our times, and I highly recommend it. Don't expect it to be another Atonement or On Chesil Beach; McEwan is attempting something entirely different here, and you will have to be willing to take it on its own terms.