Books with unlikable protagonists are difficult. I love the conceit of an unlikable protagonist in some circumstances. Yet if one is not in the right mood, not liking the protagonist doesn’t help. Solar compounds this problem with Ian McEwan’s dense narration which, while providing excellent insight into Michael Beard’s interior life, means that we spend a lot of time on little moments that aren’t actually all that interesting. As with several books I’ve picked up lately, Solar seems like it isn’t the right book for me right now, and at a different time, I might have liked it more. Somehow, though, I doubt that I would ever have loved it.
What most intrigued me about this book from the beginning was its portrayal of global warming from an early 2000s perspective. It’s so fascinating to see a book recapture sentiments in the early 2000s, when the scientific consensus was still pretty solid, but we had yet to observe things like the disturbing trend of consecutive hottest years on record. Beard’s own perspective as a scientist (albeit a physicist) slowly waking up to the dangers and reality of global warming (but still, it seems, never really caring beyond how it affects his own personal life) is an interesting case study. And, of course, since this book was published in 2010, our global perspective on this issue has shifted too. This is contemporary fiction that already starts to feel somewhat historical in nature simply because of how fast our collective ideas about this issue have developed.
Still, this is only really a background issue, barely even a subplot. Solar is almost exclusively about Michael Beard versus the World. Since Beard’s internal voice never really interested me, I had a tough time enjoying most of this book. I also didn’t hate it, and I wasn’t exactly bored. But it’s like when you have movie on, and the only reason you’ve yet to turn it off is because silence would be worse and trying to find something else to watch on Netflix would waste more time than you have left. Except, you know, I have tons of other books I could have … why didn’t I DNF this again? I must have been super stubborn that week.
Really, truly, I’m trying to come up with some praise for this book, because I didn’t hate it enough to give it one star. Yet it was so bland and mediocre that little remarkable is sticking in my mind. This is definitely more like A Child in Time rather than Enduring Love, sorry to say.