David's Reviews > Solar

Solar by Ian McEwan
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's review
Apr 19, 10

it was ok
bookshelves: read-in-2010, hideously-vile-protagonists
Read from April 15 to 19, 2010

Nobel Laureate in Physics Michael Beard is a truly revolting piece of work: a slave to his appetites, whose progress through the novel is just one orgiastic frenzy of wenching, gourmandizing self-indulgence because, after all, curbing his sybaritic excess would just be too .... inconvenient. If you think it's a stroke of genius by Ian McEwan to use this troglodyte as a heavy-handed symbol of the kind of behavior that's causing global warming, then good for you. Let me know if you still feel that way after 300 pages spent with your nose forced into every appalling detail of Beard's ghastly descent. Personally, it felt like torment to me.

Don't get me wrong. McEwan's got the writing chops. There are whole paragraphs that are hilarious, or exquisitely written, or both. But my guess is that when you turn the page that begins the final section, you'll just wish the whole damned thing was over already.

I was really pissed off that McEwan pulls a Don Giovanni at the end, denying the reader the emotional catharsis of describing the gory details of Beard's downfall.

Two other aspects that bothered me:

Though McEwan has obviously done his homework to the extent of crafting sections about physics that are entirely plausible, I'm not sure to what end. It all seems a little pointless.

The notion that Beard is some kind of irresistible babe magnet is just too ludicrous to swallow. He's a pig. I sincerely doubt that Nobel prize is going to overcome his swinishness.

This book is another example where McEwan's talent seems to have been mischanneled. This is an intermittently amusing, but ultimately repulsive story which showcases McEwan's cleverness, but seems empty at its core.

ADDENDUM: When I think about it, this book was never going to work for me, as I detest books where the reader gets stuck in the mind of a particularly obnoxious character. I should probably develop some kind of brief coding for reviews of books like this, as I know other readers are not necessarily bothered as much by loathsome protagonists as I am.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan I am so disappointed. I was eager to read this book, but I keep reading 1 and 2 star Goodreads' reviews. David, Your review finally convinced me to remove it from my to-read list; I am trying desperately to cull that list faster than I add to it.

David Culling that list is always a tough proposition, but this was definitely a book for which I begrudge the time I spent reading it.

David Walter Kirn puts it so much more eloquently than I could:


David The Guardian's condensed version also nails the pointlessness of "Solar" wickedly:


Sophie I just finished this book and entirely concur with everything you say. I only wish I'd read your review before I started it; if I had I might wisely have decided to reread Atonement instead.

Lynda I'm very glad that I didn't abandon Lolita because of my intense dislike of Humbert Humbert - although in both cases the main character presents us with a difficulty to be overcome.

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