Published: 2010 by Random House | Pages: 287
Michael Beard is a Nobel prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. A compulsive womaniser, 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 collide in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and save the world from environmental disaster. Ranging from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of New Mexico, this is a story of one man’s greed and self-deception; a darkly satirical novel showing human frailty struggling with the most pressing and complex problem of our time.
I’m a massive fan of Ian McEwan’s work; so much so that I based my undergraduate dissertation on his novels. Surprisingly, ‘Solar’ is one of the novels that I’ve had in my to-read pile for a few years but have only just gotten around to reading it. As to be expected with McEwan’s work, I wasn’t disappointed.
Usually if a book seems to be heavily based in science, I tend to be a bit nervous while reading as most of the complicated processes and elongated words act as a distraction and pull my attention away from the plot. But due to McEwan’s meticulous writing style alongside the explanation of every detail which is then simultaneously layered on top of one another not only aids the reading in understanding scientific terms, but also brings science; in this case physics; into the plot as a key trend. For me, this enhanced the reading experience as I felt that I was learning while enjoying the act of casual reading.
Our main character Michael Beard is clearly a man of immense intelligence, but in my opinion, a troubled relationship with women. Most of the time throughout the novel, Beard comes across as egotistical, power-hungry and cold. He seems to flit between women and cause chaos wherever he goes. I personally didn’t like Beard. His actions not only irritated me in regards to his reckless nature with his ‘supposed’ serious relationships, but also angered me with his hap-hazard decisions regarding work. It’s like he just accidentally fell into situations and was managing to bumble along in life thanks to his high level of intelligence.I feel McEwan was trying to get the reading to understand that in his early career, Beard was a brilliant scientist, but as time has gone on, he has become lazy and insular.
I really enjoyed the section where Beard visited a team of artists and Eco-warriors near the North Pole. At this point I think McEwan was attempting to show a slightly more human side of Beard. Admittedly, he does inject the odd bit of comedy throughout the novel. This is particularly noted during this section of the text, when Beard seems to lose a piece of his treasured anatomy (his penis!). A sign of things to come?! I was never entirely sure whether this actually happened, as he fathers a child later on in the novel. However it did make me chuckle – even a Nobel Prize winning scientist can’t quite cope in freezing cold conditions!
McEwan explores many themes throughout the novel including marital affairs, murder, obsessive love, scientific prowess and more. Overall Beard eventually has his comeuppance when his innocent little daughter and her mother, and his current American lover meet and confront Beard. I like that McEwan ends the novel at the point, there’s a real sense of vulnerability and innocence to the image of McEwan’s daughter running to see him, while his two worlds have collided and beginning to implode in front of him.
A great piece of literature, with little bursts of comedy as well as emotional turmoil. As usual a brilliant read and definitely one to dive head first in to. I would give this 4 stars.