Category: Ian McEwan

book review – Solar – Ian McEwan

“Beard was not wholly sceptical about climate change. It was one in a list of issues, of looming sorrows, that comprised the background to the news, and he read about it, vaguely deplored it and expected governments to meet and take action.”

This book, with its tactile black cover, arrives as the first major book of the year in terms of the hype and expectation that one of our great writers is serving up his latest offering.

Bearing in mind McEwan’s last book was the slim On Chesil Beach, which I felt was 80% about one moment and then had an ending that faded and ran too fast, it was going to be interesting to see what Solar was all about. At 283 pages you expected a start, middle and ending and they were delivered. Split into three parts the years go by and the attitude towards global warming becomes more cynical and opportunistic.

At the centre of what is often a farce is the Nobel prize winning physicist Michael Beard who is introduced as his fifth marriage starts to fall apart. Driven by his passions for sex, booze and crisps Beard lurches through the collapse of his marriage, the death of a colleague and the framing of his wife’s former lover with all the lights showing green. In between he does his climate change credentials the world of good by going out to be threatened by polar bears in the artic.

But sensing an opportunity to make some money out of solar power Beard steals his dead colleagues ideas and launches himself into a career as a climate change believer. It is not that he doesn’t believe but he is selfishly looking for a role for himself to make something out of it. Mixed in with his preaching about climate change is a need for self satisfaction that is physically shown in his determination to chase skirt and eat and drink himself to death despite doctor’s warnings.

Most of the coverage and interviews I’ve seen with McEwan have focused on the way he uses humour to almost spring a surprise on the reader about the importance of climate change. If there is a personal takeaway from this book it is the way that despite being clearly a clever man Beard spans the nine years of the story getting fatter, more unhealthy and into deeper trouble in his personal relationships. If you want to change, whether that be yourself or the planet, you need to start now. The slide of Beard towards death is a powerful reminder for us all.

Thoughts at the half way point of Solar

There is a humour here that is quite infectious and McEwan must have had fun writing this.

An aging scientist who’s marriage and career have seen better days finds himself involved with an organisation that is connected with global warming. As he struggles to sort out his own life the prospect of Michael Beard ever actually doing anything for the planet seems a remote one.

But things have a funny habit of falling into place for Beard and as the second half of the books looms large so does the prospect that the main character can save himself and perhaps do some good for the planet as well.

Review will come on completion soon…

book review: On Chesil Beach


This is one of those books that builds and builds and then delivers a climax that was nowhere near what you were expecting. The same could be said for the characters Edward and Florence in this novella by Ian McEwan.

Both main characters are paralysed with fear of the sexual act. The difference between them is that when it comes to the crunch on their wedding night he can get it up and start to get into the mood but she cannot. In a classic example of the dangers of not communicating she keeps her fears to herself and then gets into position where she has to try to explain something almost impossible.

His feelings are hurt by the reaction to his premature ejaculation and he becomes angry at her decision to run away down the beach. He dresses and goes after her – a move she both anticipates but then angers at because she has walked a good couple of miles by the time he catches up with her.

In one crucial conversation where misunderstanding about fear, love and lust leads them to both boil over their marriage crumbles away. By this point you have stuck with the weaving in of the back-story with the build up to the disaster that happens on the marriage bed. You realise they love each other and are soul mates in a way that most people only ever dream of.

So you are left wondering what happens next. Reading this as a man the expectation was that Edward would swallow his pride and goes and beg forgiveness after his anger cooled down. You might also have expected a similar move from Florence who said some hurtful things but could have pleaded that it was all to do with the heat of the moment.

But instead having played the wedding evening in almost slow motion McEwan then presses the fast forward button and life starts whizzing by with Edward heading into his forties, sixties and old age. For some readers this is probably where the feeling of an unsatisfactory ending creeps in. It happens quickly and it happens easily.

Just as in the telling the back-story McEwan stresses that these two characters might never have met if a different corner had been turned and another decision taken now fate works the other way. Now regardless of the opportunities, and there are presumably several, Florence and Edward do not run into each other again and as the years go by the chance of reconciliation is missed completely. There is a scene where Florence looks out for Edward at a concert she performs and remembers the promise he made many years before to be there but that is the only hint that she might have gone back to him. For Edward’s part his life drifts and you sense the missed opportunities that would have come if he had a life with Florence. With age comes wisdom and he realises that those words on the beach did not mean what he took them to mean and he should have been more patient.

It would have been interesting to see them meet again after the years of absence but that lingering thought for what might have been is exactly the one McEwan wants to leave you with. In that sense although the fast forwarding at the end could have been slowed a bit the book works and you leave it determined to listen more and speak less in an argument concerning love.

Version read – Vintage paperback

book review: On Chesil Beach


This is one of those books that builds and builds and then delivers a climax that was nowhere near what you were expecting. The same could be said for the characters Edward and Florence in this novella by Ian McEwan.

Both main characters are paralysed with fear of the sexual act. The difference between them is that when it comes to the crunch on their wedding night he can get it up and start to get into the mood but she cannot. In a classic example of the dangers of not communicating she keeps her fears to herself and then gets into position where she has to try to explain something almost impossible.

His feelings are hurt by the reaction to his premature ejaculation and he becomes angry at her decision to run away down the beach. He dresses and goes after her – a move she both anticipates but then angers at because she has walked a good couple of miles by the time he catches up with her.

In one crucial conversation where misunderstanding about fear, love and lust leads them to both boil over their marriage crumbles away. By this point you have stuck with the weaving in of the back-story with the build up to the disaster that happens on the marriage bed. You realise they love each other and are soul mates in a way that most people only ever dream of.

So you are left wondering what happens next. Reading this as a man the expectation was that Edward would swallow his pride and goes and beg forgiveness after his anger cooled down. You might also have expected a similar move from Florence who said some hurtful things but could have pleaded that it was all to do with the heat of the moment.

But instead having played the wedding evening in almost slow motion McEwan then presses the fast forward button and life starts whizzing by with Edward heading into his forties, sixties and old age. For some readers this is probably where the feeling of an unsatisfactory ending creeps in. It happens quickly and it happens easily.

Just as in the telling the back-story McEwan stresses that these two characters might never have met if a different corner had been turned and another decision taken now fate works the other way. Now regardless of the opportunities, and there are presumably several, Florence and Edward do not run into each other again and as the years go by the chance of reconciliation is missed completely. There is a scene where Florence looks out for Edward at a concert she performs and remembers the promise he made many years before to be there but that is the only hint that she might have gone back to him. For Edward’s part his life drifts and you sense the missed opportunities that would have come if he had a life with Florence. With age comes wisdom and he realises that those words on the beach did not mean what he took them to mean and he should have been more patient.

It would have been interesting to see them meet again after the years of absence but that lingering thought for what might have been is exactly the one McEwan wants to leave you with. In that sense although the fast forwarding at the end could have been slowed a bit the book works and you leave it determined to listen more and speak less in an argument concerning love.

Version read – Vintage paperback

On Chesil Beach – post II

The second half of this novella doesn’t quite go in the direction you expect. The build up to the sexual act on their weeding eve has been countered with the back story of how Edward and Florence fell in love.

It is clear that the music loving Florence has found her soul mate in Edward and they plan to live happily ever after if she can just get over her worries and clammed up fears of sex. For Edward, a typical man, he expects to carry out his duty and get some pleasure out of it. He knows that Florence is very slow at coming to anything sexual but expects that as it is their wedding night she will allow him to at least consummate the marriage.

His biggest fear is premature ejaculation and ironically that occurs because Florence boldly touches him setting off a reaction he cannot stop. But that is when things fall apart because she runs from the room after being disgusted at the ejaculation over her body and heads for the beach.

Edward is clearly angry and humiliated at what has happened and after a while puts on his clothes and heads along the beach to find her. With her fears in the open it also liberates her anger and Florence wounds Edward and in a few critical sentences their marriage falls apart and she runs off to go home and he heads back to an empty honeymoon suite. He fails to understand her fears and her wish for patience.

That turn of events might not have been the one you were expecting but then with most of us pre-programmed for a happy ending you read on waiting for the reconciliation. But McEwan has other ideas and with Edward’s life on fast forward he skips through the next forty years leaving you in no doubt that those critical moments on Chesil Beach haunted him for the rest of his life and the love he lost was the most powerful he had ever known.

A review will follow soon…

On Chesil Beach – post II

The second half of this novella doesn’t quite go in the direction you expect. The build up to the sexual act on their weeding eve has been countered with the back story of how Edward and Florence fell in love.

It is clear that the music loving Florence has found her soul mate in Edward and they plan to live happily ever after if she can just get over her worries and clammed up fears of sex. For Edward, a typical man, he expects to carry out his duty and get some pleasure out of it. He knows that Florence is very slow at coming to anything sexual but expects that as it is their wedding night she will allow him to at least consummate the marriage.

His biggest fear is premature ejaculation and ironically that occurs because Florence boldly touches him setting off a reaction he cannot stop. But that is when things fall apart because she runs from the room after being disgusted at the ejaculation over her body and heads for the beach.

Edward is clearly angry and humiliated at what has happened and after a while puts on his clothes and heads along the beach to find her. With her fears in the open it also liberates her anger and Florence wounds Edward and in a few critical sentences their marriage falls apart and she runs off to go home and he heads back to an empty honeymoon suite. He fails to understand her fears and her wish for patience.

That turn of events might not have been the one you were expecting but then with most of us pre-programmed for a happy ending you read on waiting for the reconciliation. But McEwan has other ideas and with Edward’s life on fast forward he skips through the next forty years leaving you in no doubt that those critical moments on Chesil Beach haunted him for the rest of his life and the love he lost was the most powerful he had ever known.

A review will follow soon…

On Chesil Beach – Post I

With a couple of his books under the belt and the fact that his name is everywhere it seemed like a good idea to bring things up-to-date and read Ian McEwan’s latest book.

Without going into too much detail the prospect of intimate relations with my wife on my wedding night never filled me with dread. When it came to the moment the problem was just staying awake – after a full couple of days preparing and then getting married. However for the husband and wife in this story that is far from the case.

It harks back to a different age when sex was a taboo subject for some people and the idea of participating in the act filled some people with dread.

The story moves like waves coming and going from the present to the past as McEwan weaves a story around how Florence and Edward are on honeymoon, met, fell in love and got married. The elephant in the room, to use a phrase, is that at the end of the lovely meal they are enjoying in the hotel overlooking the path down to Chesil beach in Dorset they will of course have to consummate their marriage.

Both husband and wife are scared of the idea but Florence more so. She takes the odd decision to appear to initiate the move from the dining table to the bedroom so that her husband will not detect her fear. Meanwhile he is starting to allow his primal desires to kick in and you sense that as the story comes back from revealing how and where they met and the bedroom looms large again, that there will be some sort of showdown.

The writing is fluid and easy to consume even if it is initially a bit disappointing that this is going to be focused on the sexual act. But the description of their lives, location and motivation is handled so simply that you picture it all without ever realising the picture has been painted so well for you/

The second half will be posted about over the weekend…