Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Solar, by Ian McEwan

What a trifecta; Dan Chaon, Willy Vlautin and Ian McEwan! Every month should be filled with such great writers.

I have always maintained that success and happiness depend a lot on the personality traits one is born with. Luck of the genetic variety. The protagonist of Solar, Michael Beard, is blessed with both brilliance and confidence, and is unhampered by empathy. The combination is a fortunate one for him, if not for his professional associates and many ex-wives. A man of unappealing personal habits, and few physical charms, he nontheless seduces women at a rate that would make Wilt Chamberlain jealous. Twenty years after receiving the award, Beard is resting on his Nobel Laurels, collecting steep fees for describing the Beard-Einstein Conflation, the theory he piggybacked onto the more famous E=MC2. Unable, in his middle years, to come up with anything resembling his youthful brilliance, Beard falls back on the time-trusted method of stealing ideas. Which works pretty well for him.

I love this book, the way it makes a mockery of the idea that good deeds are rewarded, and that villains come to a bad end. McEwan builds the story with his usual skill, as his hero flees one mess only to land in another. Eventually his life is a tangle that will take a miracle to escape. I am not, of course, a spoiler, so you'll have to read it to see how it turns out.

Ian McEwan's books are different enough from one another to make me want to read them all. He certainly has a style, but it is more in the way he creates tension and drives a story to its climax than anything else. My favorites of his are On Chesil Beach, which is an incredible book, and Saturday, powerful in its own right.

Great fact about Ian McEwan: He wrote the libretto for the Opera For You. Although it is available in book form, why would one want to read an opera? I would, however, love to see it. Opera seems like the perfect venue for his talent.


  1. Hello, i'm a member of The Complete Booker too and I was just wondering what your thoughts on Saturday are? I personally thought it was extremely well written and felt it portrayed an interesting and well rounded view of modern middle class life. Others suggested that it was nothing but cliche drivle harking back to a stereotype of a family that no longer exists. Anyway, nice blog, consider me your latest follower :)

  2. Thanks! I loved Saturday. Ian McEwan is so good at building tension in his books, and I recall being riveted by the climax of that one. Getting a sneak peek into the everday lives of regular people is what I love about literature, so I really enjoyed what I guess could be considered the banality of the lives of those characters.