Thursday, October 28, 2010
Solar - Ian McEwan
Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Quick Review: 4 stars (out of 5)
Why I Read It: I was looking for a self contained digital book to listen to as I worked on my house remodel. I have read Ian McEwan before, Atonement and Saturday, and enjoyed them. So I picked this up and got through it as I hung my drywall.
Where I Obtained the Book: At my local library.
Synopsis: Michael Beard is in his late fifties; bald, overweight, unprepossessing – 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. An inveterate philanderer, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. When Beard’s professional and personal worlds are entwined in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself, a chance for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster.
Review: After reading so many serious books Ian McEwan is giving humor a shot. One of the highlights is the protagonists attempt to relieve himself outside during the winter. As a Minnesota resident who finds himself enjoying a comparatively warm minus 20°F at times, I can relate to the fear expressed in the story. At one point I believe all men will wince in pain. The author also works in an old tried and true myth/story and I was left wondering why he would try to pass that off in the narrative, but then he brings it full circle and has another character ask the question I wanted to ask.
At its heart though, Solar is a story of human folly, the tendency of people to fix one bad decision by making two more bad ones. Like a gambler, Michael Beard one big win early on in life and thus felt comfortable make even riskier bets. Having worked through 5 wives he once again gets caught cheating and loses the love of his wife. Instead of cutting his losses he starts engaging in even riskier behaviors trying to win back his wife. When they fail he makes more. He slowly ups the ante until ultimately he goes all in.
If anything, this book should stand as a testament to all of us that you can’t fix a wrong with a wrong. As the great philosopher Kenny Rogers once said, “You got to know when to fold them.” If only we all had the presence of mind to remember that sage advice.
The only downside for me was the lead character himself; a totally unlikable hero. In some ways that is evidence of McEwan’s writing skill, that you can thoroughly dislike the character rather than just be ambivalent.
Author Biography: McEwan's works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Etranger (1993) for The Child in Time; and Germany's Shakespeare Prize in 1999. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). He was awarded a CBE in 2000. In 2006, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Saturday and his novel On Chesil Beach was named Galaxy Book of the Year at the 2008 British Book Awards where McEwan was also named Reader's Digest Author of the Year.
The New York Times
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