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.
... 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).
New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
While recounting Beard’s story, Mr. McEwan gives the reader some uproarious moments... The last two thirds of this novel, however, are oddly static, as Mr. McEwan repetitiously harps on Beard’s gluttonous habits and growing waistline....
The scientific material is absorbing, but the interpersonal portions are much less so - troublesome, since McEwan seems to prefer the latter - making for an inconsistent novel that one finishes feeling unpleasantly glacial.
This draggy novel stands in stark contrast to its many beautiful predecessors.
Overall, this is dense with the minutiae of global warming and alternative energy, and the denouement, however pleasing, seems rather clumsy, given the 100-odd pages preceding it.
McEwan's background research is so seamlessly displayed that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — busy working on the same topic — might wonder if he's nicked their notes. But where Solar really succeeds - beyond the dark comedy. . .- is the author's ability to reveal the nature of the climate conundrum in the very human life of his protagonist.
Beard is as robust and full-fleshed and ebullient a character as McEwan has come up with. And in Solar, he shows a side to himself as a writer — a puckishness, a broadness of humour, an extravagance of style — that we haven’t seen before.
The Telegraph (UK)
[M]y only reservation about the novel is that the end is a bit of a jolt, the brakes are applied rather forcefully. But perhaps this is because McEwan is planning Solar II. I hope so because I rather like Michael Beard.
The Times (UK)
[S]izzling lucidity distinguishes this enormously entertaining novel about rationality and unreason.
Financial Times (UK)
It seems unlikely that McEwan could pull this off but there is no doubt that he has. Solar is both funny and serious, light and dark, morally engaged and ironically detached, and well deserves its place next to the great run of sparkling fiction that began with Enduring Love (1997).
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 so: using the energy from the sun to convert compounds from one form to another. Plants use the energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar (with extra oxygen left over). Artificial photosynthesis uses the energy from the sun to break up water into oxygen and energy in the form of hydrogen, which can then be...
Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.
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