SolarIan McEwan in Top Form

His achievement is the brilliant creation of a flawed, larger than life character who all but walks off the page to shake your hand. —The Times


By Roger Childs

How does a short, fat, balding, middle aged man have women virtually falling over themselves to get his attention?  Michael Beard is on his fifth marriage and has had countless affairs – Patrice, Brenda, Melissa, Maissie, Darlene, the African customs officer… What makes him seemingly irresistible?

Well, Michael is a Nobel Prize winning physicist who has a world-wide reputation and is at the cutting edge of solar energy research. He also has boundless confidence and entrepreneurial nous, but his personal life, to say the least, is messy and often in crisis.

He is the main character, supported by a cast of hundreds, in Ian McEwan’s Solar, where the Earth’s environmental problems feature large and inevitably become entangled in Michael complicated private life. 

McEwan takes on fascinating themes

Ian McEwan The TimesHe is one of the world’s top novelists, has written more than 20 books and won more than 15 prizes, including the coveted Booker for Amsterdam. His best known work is arguably Atonement which is set in and around World War Two and was made into an excellent film.

McEwan has never shied away from challenging and controversial topics, and his main characters are often deeply flawed and highly interesting at the same time. Some examples:

  • Sexual naivety and a doomed honeymoon in Chesil Beach
  • A cross-dressing foreign minister in Amsterdam
  • A foetus narrating the story in Nutshell
  • Synthetic humans in Machines Like Me
  • A female judge and a teenage Jehovah’s Witness needing a transfusion to survive in The Children Act

A hallmark of his writing is that it is based on detailed and scrupulous research where the topic requires it, and the reader, as well as getting a rattling good story is also educated in the law, politics, solar energy, androids … whatever.

Entertainment guaranteed

Solar gets underway with Michael’s fifth marriage in tatters – the beautiful Patrice is getting her own back by getting all dolled up and regularly heading off to the plumber’s place. Meanwhile the “hero” is involved in scientific endeavour designed to save the planet but is having a few issues with colleagues.

This is a complex but fascinating story which is vintage McEwan. The mix of drama, humour, crises, issues and plot twists provides first rate entertainment. If you haven’t read an Ian McEwan book, this would be a good place to start and will make you hungry for more.