Solar – Ian McEwan

I think I am one of the few people I know (in the flesh) to have read quite a few of Ian McEwan’s books and not to have yet felt I have been let down by any. I know plenty of people who have loved one or two and then really disliked one or two. So far I have enjoyed all of his works that I have read and yet there is always a small worry when you open the next one, just in case. His latest novel ‘Solar’ is one of the books I have been most excited about this year and so when it arrived last week the book I was currently reading was relegated for some other time. I knew nothing then of what the book might be about as it has been rather shrouded in mystery until the last week or so. I was worried though… I knew it was a book about science, and if you had been at my secondary school where I almost burnt down the science lab you would know me and science don’t really mix (in fact as my teacher at the time became my step dad it’s become a family fable). Anyway, back to the book.

Thinking logically from the title and from one of the most talked about topics in the world at the moment you could probably guess that ‘Solar’ could be a book about global warming and you would be right. I have to admit I was slightly concerned that this might not make for an interesting read there’s always the possibility of it coming across as preaching or you have to set the world far in the future to scare the hell out of everyone. In this case McEwan does neither, he sets the book over three period’s in the last ten years and creates a lead character who is a reluctant saver of the planet until he see’s the cash signs it could bring.

Michael Beard is the protagonist of McEwan’s latest work. He’s a Nobel Prize winning physicist (for the ‘Beard-Einstein Conflation’) who as we meet him in 2000 has seen the best days of his career behind him along with the best days of his 5th marriage. In fact Beard isn’t a particularly likeable character he is a philanderer of the highest order, lazy and only works now as head of the Government’s new National Centre for Renewable Energy for the cash. McEwan does write these sort of leading characters rather well and cleverly the more odious, dislikable and dark Beard becomes the more you want to read him.

So where is the global warming story? Well it intertwines with the tale of a man who is a failure at marriage, even the fifth time. As an escape from his wife, who after finding out about all his affairs has decided rather than to get gone to merely get even with their builder which of course makes Beard want her even more, Beard goes to the Arctic as part of his work to see what’s happening there and the need for his company to find clean energy. However once there Beard does wonder ‘how can people who can’t sort out a boot room ever save the planet’. Yet back in the UK someone may have found an answer, someone who Beard comes back to find is the latest in a string of men to shack up with his wife which ends in tragedy and with Beard the holder of the planets salvation… even if he didn’t really come up with it. From then on through several plot twists and some dark detours the book takes us on to the future where Beard becomes the possible hero of the planet and where the books menace really takes shape.

There is a lot of science in this book, in fact the book came to McEwan from his own trip to the Arctic in 2005, yet its digestible you know McEwan has done his research throughout and yet he doesn’t show off and leave you lots after a sentence. The book is also incredibly funny. I laughed and winced at a tale involving a call of nature and the affects of sub zero temperatures on the male appendage, Beards meeting with a Polar Bear is comical too, there is also a darkly comical accidental death looming somewhere, involving a polar bear skin rug, which will make you snigger even though it shouldn’t. If people were worried that this book and its mix of science, some politics (Bush and Blair) and would be preachy or weirdly futuristic you needn’t. This is a tale that makes even more of a point in its sudden conclusion because you have been laughing along the way.

I think this might be one of my very favourite books of the year so far, and that’s from someone who isn’t the least scientific, a clever mix of science, humour and human nature make it a book not to be missed in my opinion. Don’t worry this could be his next ‘Saturday’ (which I should admit I started once and wasn’t sure about so left for a day when the mood was right and now oddly I want another whirl at) because it isn’t but in the same vein don’t go expecting another ‘Atonement’ this is another original novel from McEwan which, like most of his works, is not like anything he has done before. I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t get Booker long listed – though that prediction could be a kiss of death. If I had a rating system I would give this book a good 5/5!

Oh and should you wish to you can win a signed first edition copy of this on this very blog, all you need to do is go here before midday (GMT) tomorrow when the sun is at its highest point here in the UK. I will be off to get mine signed on Thursday when I go to see him speak at the Southbank.

Is anyone else a McEwan fan? Which books would you rave that aren’t his more well known ones? Have you read any other global warming fiction that hasn’t been set in the distant future?



Filed under Books of 2010, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review

33 responses to “Solar – Ian McEwan

  1. Lucy

    Black Dogs is amazing. I cant wait to read this, i have had it on preorder for months!


    • I havent read Black Dogs yet Lucy but its on the TBR and will be one of the next McEwan books I read from your recommendation, its one of his books I know very little about.

  2. Dot

    I have to admit that I have never read an Ian McEwan book but I am intrigued after reading this review so I shall be looking out for a copy! Thanks Simon!

  3. Thanks for the review – I’m really looking forward to reading this and hope to win your copy 🙂

  4. This doesn’t appeal to me at all. Sorry, Simon, but it sounds incredibly boring and I may feel otherwise reading it but I don’t feel compelled to read it. If it makes the Booker shortlist (doubtful I’ll read the longlist this year) then I’ll probably read it but at the moment I foresee that being the only reason.

    I find it interesting that you have said scientific a few times but never science fiction, was that intentional? It is science fiction just as The Year of the Flood, for example, is … speculative fiction.

    I love the fabled tale of you almost burning down the science lab and the teacher becoming your step-dad!

    • Ha, ha, ha don’t hold back Claire. I like your honesty as ever. I hope my review hasnt made it sound boring, or my review was boring and therefore it made the book sound it? As its a very witty book if with an odious character and slightly bleak. I do think its going to be a book that has people divided.

      As for the Booker it might not make it, who can say? I already have a favourite which I havent blogged about yet. I have made a decision this year not to read any longlists or short lists unless I actually want to read the books, it kind of killed the Man Booker for me last year as it became deadline reading. I dont mind a couple of those a month for book groups etc but that was too much. Plus everyone was doing it and I felt it oversaturated the blogosphere. I am always dubious about too many hardback reviews too because not everyone can afford them.

      I suppose its a fiction book with science in it so it could be labelled science fiction, as I don’t read much I am never sure where the boundaries lie. I wouldnt call it speculative though either… oooh you have me stuck!

      Glad you liked one of the very well known Savidge Family Fables, my Gran has some corkers about her but she told me if I ever published them she wouldnt speak to me. (I have a character very like her in the thing I am writing on and off though but don’t tell her!)

  5. I’m crossing my fingers!!!! Actually I am one of those people who are hot and cold on McEwan. I loved on Chesil Beach on one end of the spectrum, but Saturday left me a little cold. I know some think it was fabulous, so maybe it was my mood!

    • I think this might be a book that could be another great divider with McEwan fans and non McEwans fans but it worked for me. I have never finished Saturday for my sins I actually think it will be the McEwan that I will read next though it worries me that I won’t like it as I know that books divided lots of readers across the board.

  6. farmlanebooks

    I haven’t enjoyed the McEwan’s I’ve read so far, but am aware that some people love some of his books and dislike others so am willing to give him another try. I am a scientist and love science in books – I look forward to seeing if this one works for me.

    • I think with this book the science is done just to the right point and he doesnt over awe you, mind you being a scientist yourself he probably wouldnt anyway. I didn’t know that for this book he learned to PhD standard in order to get into Beard’s head, thats some research.

      I think its also an interesting read for the anti-hero.

  7. I’m always a bit scared of McEwan because of the mixed reviews all of his works seem to get. This is ridiculous since what I have read of his, I’ve loved, but there you are. Not scared of this one though – can’t wait to read it!

    • Hahaha I was worried rather than scared with this book partly because i havent hit a McEwan bump yet and partly because of the science aspect, but I seem to have done ok. I don’t want to tell everyone this is an amazing read as though it was for me I dont think it will be for everyone else. I do recommend it though.

  8. I’m one of those Ian McEwan fans who have completely loved some of his books while also disliking some others. Like you I always approach one of his books with trepidation. Mind you, I haven’t read all of them. But your review makes me very excited about this one. Can’t wait to read it!

    • I think this one is going to be an interesting on to watch and read the reactions of anyone who reads it because I do think people will go into the book expecting certain things and getting something quite different. I wasn’t expecting the comedy I have to say, but its never at the expense of climate change in case anyone is worried about that.

  9. winstonsdad

    just awaiting get my hands on a copy .I like the jist of this one and i m not a huge McEwan fan .seems as thou he has put some of his on experiences in after he visted the artic

  10. Deb

    I’m sorry to say that McEwan is one of those writers who just doesn’t do it for me. I thought THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS was a shockingly nihilistic book–equal parts creepy and mundane, but not the right combination of either (I have the same problem with some of Patricia Highsmith’s work). ENDURING LOVE had a fabulous set-up, but then just degenerated into the sort of crazy stalker story that gets sold in paperback at the airport; and I couldn’t even make it through the first half of ATONEMENT. But I must admit, your review has roused my curiosity. Perhaps I’ll dip my toe in again with this one.

    • I loved Atonement, I read it as part of a book group I was in and a book group discussion always makes a book much fonder to me… or kills it hahaha. I liked the book though and loved the fact lives were changed over a letter. I dont know much about Enduring Love. I do want to read The Comfort of Strangers though.

  11. Annabel

    I’ve loved all the McEwans I’ve read so far, but want to read them all again. I’m extremely excited about this one, it appears to have a sense of humour which is brilliant.

    • I havent read that many (I have just been having a look to work it all out) and I have now read seven of his fourteen books which is more than I thought (half in fact lol), either that or I thought he had written more!

  12. Beate

    Enjoyed your comment very much ! I’m one of those McEwan fans, who buy his newest books, no matter what they are about. ( This is real dedication 😉 I guess ) and just as you I didn’t have very much of a clue what it would be about. “Global warming” was a hint, dropped by somebody somewhere…. I’m not too keen on that topic I have to say…
    But hey !!! This book is absolutely fantastic. I can’t remember that MR Mc Ewan has ever been that funny. Just loved the scene with the lip balm ( you’ll know what I mean ) or the scene on the train. ( Is this really something that’s common knowledge in psychology ?)
    I haven’t finished yet but loved every bit of it so far.

    Best wishes!

    • I do indeed know what you mean by the lip balm… I will say no more. I only hope I havent given away too much with this book, that would vex me! I have to say I would read anything of his… I am pleased that I still have some of his back catalogue to go though!

  13. Simon, am I ever glad to hear you gushing about this book! I’ve read two negative reviews so far and am worried because I was really looking forward to this, too. However, I really want to read it BECAUSE of the global warming bit. I’m over-the-top interested in the subject, so even if this wasn’t McEwan I probably would still read it. But what a treat that it’s by him because I haven’t been disappointed by him, too, ever (Atonement, On Chesil Beach, Amsterdam). Thanks!!

    • Amsterdam is the one a lot of people say isnt great… I loved that one too, so am pleased have found someone else who did aswell. I really hope you enjoy this when you get it (be it from the comp on here or not) I look forward to your thoughts in the not too distant future.

  14. I’ve been interested in the topic of global warming for a long time now, and this looks like a good book. Or at least, your review is definitely a sign of something to look forward to. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Ian McEwan, but this does seem like a good book to read.

    • The global warming isnt exactly the forefront story of the novel I would say there are two tales being told here and thats most definitely one of them.

      I am on of a small few who seemed to have loved this book so far, I really enjoyed it, I know a fair few people havent so much.

  15. lizzysiddal

    I hope Simon doesn’t mind the shameless plug but there’s another chance to win a signed 1st edition over at my place ….

  16. Pingback: Solar – Ian McEwan – Farm Lane Books Blog

  17. Pingback: Simon’s Bookish Bits #18 « Savidge Reads

  18. Agreed. Great book. Solar was my first taste of McEwan and I quite enjoyed it. I did my own review for

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