Summary and book reviews of Solar by Ian McEwan

Solar

by Ian McEwan

Solar by Ian McEwan X
Solar by Ian McEwan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2011, 368 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Michael Beard is a Nobel prize–winning physicist whose best work is behind him, and whose fifth marriage is crumbling. However, an invitation to travel to New Mexico offers him a chance for him to extricate himself from his marital problems, reinvigorate his career, and save the world from environmental disaster. Can a man who has made a mess of his life clean up the messes of humanity?

Michael Beard is 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. While he coasts along in his professional life, Michael’s 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 Michael’s 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 man’s ambitions and self-deceptions, Solar is a startling, witty, and stylish new work from one of the world’s great writers.

Excerpt
Solar

He belonged to that class of men—vaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat, clever—who 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. Weren’t 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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Solar, the new novel by Ian McEwan, Booker Prize winner and bestselling author of Amsterdam and Atonement.

About This Book

Solar approaches the largest and most important of themes—global warming—through the very particular lens of Michael Beard, a disheveled physicist floundering in the aftermath of a career that had brought him the Nobel Prize many years before.

As the novel begins, Beard's fifth marriage is unraveling. But this time, in a reversal of roles, it is because his wife is having an affair. Infidelities are Beard's stock-in-trade, ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

... 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 (562 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

Media Reviews

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 Spectator
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).

Publishers Weekly
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.

Booklist
This draggy novel stands in stark contrast to its many beautiful predecessors.

Library Journal
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.

Time
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.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Artificial Photosynthesis

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...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Ian McEwan

If you liked Solar, try these:

  • Flight Behavior jacket

    Flight Behavior

    by Barbara Kingsolver

    Published 2013

    About this book

    More books by this author

    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.

  • Anthill jacket

    Anthill

    by Edward O. Wilson

    Published 2011

    About this book

    More books by this author

    Inspirational and magical, the story of boy who grows up determined to save the world from its most savage ecological predator: Man himself.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: We Set the Dark on Fire
    We Set the Dark on Fire
    by Tehlor Mejia
    On the island of Medio, a wall separates the wealthy elite from those less fortunate who lack the ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Leopard, Red Wolf
    Black Leopard, Red Wolf
    by Marlon James
    If you are looking for an indulgent, escapist fantasy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf may not be for you. ...
  • Book Jacket: That Time I Loved You
    That Time I Loved You
    by Carianne Leung
    Carrianne Leung was a Toronto Book Award finalist for That Time I Loved You as well as for her debut...
  • Book Jacket: The Pianist from Syria
    The Pianist from Syria
    by Aeham Ahmad
    Aeham Ahmad became famous as the face of Syrian suffering when a photo of him playing piano in the ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Year of the War
    by Susan Meissner

    A little-known story of WWII with great resonance for our times.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    A People's History of Heaven
    by Mathangi Subramanian

    A story of love and friendship, and fighting for the places we love.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao

An extraordinary and heart-rending tale of two girls with all the odds against them.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win The Summer Country

Win up to 12 copies to share with friends or your book club!

A sweeping epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D T T! Full S A!

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.