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REVIEW: Solar by Ian McEwan

In general I really like Ian McEwan's books. I've not read all twelve of them, and they might not end up being the classics of our era but he has a way with words and stories that draws me in. The opening chapters of Enduring Love are how to paint vividly with words, and the intimacy and internal turmoil of On Chesil Beach captivated me.

Solar is the story of Nobel Laureate, Michael Beard. Once a hero and now repeatedly married, overweight, balding and never having quite got to where he might have been.

McEwan's brilliance is in creating characters who are frustrated and flawed. People who could have been heroes but really aren't, and then telling us of how their lives fall apart. When you read Atonement you watch the characters trying to sort their lives out but it all frays apart and the justice you're crying out for never comes. Beard's life is one great disappointment. A Nii Lamptey of the science world, the next big star who never fulfilled his potential.

Solar tells the story of how his life of mediocrity reaches new levels as his personal and private lives collide, set against a backdrop of climate change science in the Noughties, in three parts set in 2000, 2005 and 2009. McEwan kept me reading, kept me hoping and provides the right kind of ending.

McEwan knows how to write in an Ecclesiastes world instead of in Hollywood, a world where happy endings are uncommon rather than normal, where the main character might not be a hero, a man whose best days aren't ahead but long behind him, where personality flaws and circumstances conspire against us rather than giving us everything on a plate, a world where change might really be possible but where no one really has the will or the power to do anything.

Solar is not a particularly cheery beach read, but it's a story for our times.
Have you read it? What do you think of Solar or Ian McEwan's books?

Discussion Guide for Solar at Readers Place
Study Guide at


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