Solar by Ian McEwan



The literary event of the season: a new novel from Ian McEwan, as surprising as it is masterful. 

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.


Solar was one of my book club reads for this month. I was pretty excited to start reading since I just read and loved Atonement, but unfortunately this book just was not as good. I had an incredibly hard time keeping my attention on the story. I found myself reading pages while my mind wandered and thought about other things. Then I would realize I just tuned out even though I had read the pages and would have to go back and re-read. This happened a lot, especially in the second part, so it took me a long time to finish this book. It was a rough one to get through and if not for book club I probably would have stopped and moved on to something else without finishing it.

Beard won a Nobel prize when he was young and hasn't really done much since then. He hasn't even kept up on what is new in the world of physics. He has married and divorced a number of times, he has lent his name to different entities, and he just seems like he doesn't want to do anything but he wants to be paid. He is not a very likable person.

The story opens when Beard's current wife is having an affair since finding out Beard has had a lot and he does not like this at all. It is fine for him to cheat on her, but for her to cheat on him? No good. He suddenly realizes he wants to be with her and stay married, but he cannot seem to make it work. He really is just kind of a mess. He starts working for the foundation to try and find a solution for climate change and he doesn't seem to care. Really in the first part of the book he doesn't even really believe in climate change. He goes off to this odd climate meeting in the arctic and it is a mess. Nothing really gets done, there are only artists there besides himself, it is so ridiculous. I can see where a lot of the things were reflective of how we treat this huge issue, but it is just not written in a way that entertained me or kept my focus. I get that we need to be serious about climate change, that we need people to be active in trying to find solutions and whatnot, but this story? This story was just kind of boring to me.

**Some spoilers ahead**
When Beard comes back from his trip to the arctic he has an opportunity, quite suddenly, to set his wife's lover up for murder, to steal someones physics work and make money off their ideas, and potentially help save the world with those ideas he stole. This opens up the question of should Beard, or someone, be allowed to continue with this work that he stole to benefit humanity? Yes he is a terrible person. Yes he stole the ideas, but if it saves the earth shouldn't we continue to try them out? Shouldn't we as a people want this to continue being developed and tested so we can survive? That is the main thought I had about this story. What should we do if this were true? Continue with the stollen research or put a halt to all of it for who knows how long because it was stollen. The whole ending of the book was ridiculous and it is like really everything would just come together suddenly in such a perfect way? Everyone would track him down in the same day? There is no security at the project site? Really? A bit unbelievable, and really by that time I didn't really care what happened. Unfortunate as I feel like if it had been written in a more engaging way this could have been a great book to start a climate change and what are we doing about it discussion. We did have a long discussion in my book club about it, not really related to the book, but just because it was a high level topic in the story.  I don't know. I just found it hard to actually read the story and focus on it. Not my favorite read.


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