Kees IJzerman's Reviews > Solar

Solar by Ian McEwan
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Aug 04, 2011

really liked it
Read in September, 2010

A Comedy?

Solar is not McEwan' best book. It doesn't enthrall you like Atonement did, or surprise you with a twist at the end like that book did. Neither does it make you want to get 'in' the story and council the protagonist towards a happy, or at least happier, end like I wanted to do with the couple in On Chesil Beach.

The reason that I wasn't as involved in the story might be that McEwan directed his fabulous writing talent partially towards describing technology, science and even politics. Blair, Brown, Bush, Obama, 9/11, credit crunch and of course global warming all act as backdrop to Michael Beard's story.

Beard is a pleasantly unpleasant man. Overweight and continuously making plans to mend his ways, he is an unlikely womanizer who, at the age of 59, becomes a reluctant father.
In his descriptions of Beard's inner dialogue, his inner ramblings, his self-delusion and his petty feelings towards his wives, lovers and colleagues, McEwan is at his best. No other writer can make unpleasant characteristics sound so human. No other writer can endear you to an unpleasant protagonist the way McEwan can.

Solar is McEwan’s most humorous book to date. Beard’s antics during the first third of the book, set in 2000, repeatedly made me laugh out loud. The last third, set in 2010, contains elements of traditional farce, with all ghosts that the protagonist thought he’d laid to rest or at least safely tucked away in either prison or inconsequential careers rushing towards him to confront him with his faults from earlier years. They’ll end his self-delusional visions of grandeur with a bang.

It must have sounded like music to his ears when Beard heard his 3 years old daughter’s words repeated back to him: “My daddy’s saving the world in Lordsburg”. This is one thieving, deceitful Lord whose moment supreme will never come to pass. His ghosts will see to that. And, of course, only he himself is to blame. If only…. But isn’t that typical of McEwan? How often does he not make you cry out:”If only…”? He must be the master of describing missed opportunities.

Michael Beard might yet be saved. In the very last sentence of the book he experiences an unfamiliar feeling: love. Love for the child he had not wanted.

Solar is not McEwan’s best book, but it is far better than 90 % of all other contemporary literature…

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