Michael Beard is a Nobel prizewinning 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. While he coasts along in his professional life, Michaels personal life is another matter entirely. His fifth marriage is crumbling under the weight of his infidelities. But this time the tables are turned: His wife is having an affair, and Michael realizes he is still in love with her.
When Michaels personal and professional lives begin to intersect in unexpected ways, an opportunity presents itself in the guise of an invitation to travel to New Mexico. Here is a chance for him to extricate himself from his marital problems, reinvigorate his career, and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster. Can a man who has made a mess of his life clean up the messes of humanity?
A complex novel that brilliantly traces the arc of one mans ambitions and self-deceptions, Solar is a startling, witty, and stylish new work from one of the worlds great writers.
He belonged to that class of menvaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat, cleverwho were unaccountably attractive to certain beautiful women. Or he believed he was, and thinking seemed to make it so. And it helped that some women believed he was a genius in need of rescue. But the Michael Beard of this time was a man of narrowed mental condition, anhedonic, monothematic, stricken. His fifth marriage was disintegrating, and he should have known how to behave, how to take the long view, how to take the blame. Werent marriages, his marriages, tidal, with one rolling out just before another rolled in? But this one was different. He did not know how to behave, long views pained him, and for once there was no blame for him to assume, as he saw it. It was his wife who was having the affair, and having it flagrantly, punitively, certainly without remorse. He was discovering in himself, among an array of emotions, intense moments of shame and ...
... Ironic, too, is the way in which Beard is able to speak about science. The passages in which McEwan quotes large segments of his informational and motivational speeches are brilliantly crafted pieces of popular science writing, Beard's knowledge of and apparent passion for his chosen field shine through every word, inspiring both Beard's audiences and McEwan's readers. But the narcissistic, short-sighted internal monologues that compose much of the rest of the novel call into question not only Beard's motivations but also the reader's sympathies. McEwan asks readers to perform a difficult task: to respect a character's work even if we might not respect the man behind it.
(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).
Full Review (922 words).
Much of the science upon which Beard stakes his reputation (even though he may have gleaned it unethically) deals with the concept of artificial photosynthesis, a real proposed solution to energy consumption problems, one that Beard himself explains eloquently and convincingly in a speech to a group of businesspeople and investors. When he first encounters the idea, Beard calls it "brilliant or insane," but regardless of his ambivalence, artificial photosynthesis is a proposal that is very much under discussion as one of the potential answers to the mounting questions about where humans will draw their energy in years to come.
Essentially, artificial photosynthesis does what plants have been doing for the last 2.8 billion years or...
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