Solar flares

24 11 2011

Solar by Ian McEwan

 

 

Michael Beard is a Nobel prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions and half-heartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. A compulsive womaniser, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. But this time it is different: she is having the affair, and he is still in love with her. When Beard’s professional and personal worlds collide in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and save the world from environmental disaster. Ranging from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of New Mexico, SOLAR is a serious and darkly satirical novel, showing human frailty struggling with the most pressing and complex problem of our time. A story of one man’s greed and self-deception, it is a profound and stylish new work from one of the world’s great writers.

Enjoyable but at times excruciating. Beard really isn’t at all likeable and I don’t think I found the book quite as amusing as some reviewers. Nevertheless, really well written and pretty compelling. Understandable why the reviews for the book are so mixed given the unpleasantness of Beard and the difficulty of dealing with the issue of global warming in this way. But still worth a read.

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Asking for it

17 11 2011

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

Milo Burke – husband to a ‘touched-out’ wife, father to a three-year-old son, fund-raising officer at a third-tier university – has just joined the swelling ranks of the unemployed. As he grasps after odd jobs to support his wife and child, Milo is contacted by Purdy Stuart, a wealthy, one-time university friend with a sinister agenda. It is the start of a hilarious and harrowing odyssey through several degrees of peculiarly 21st-century hell– a journey recorded by Milo with the caustic eloquence that is his only means of defence. The Ask is the best book yet from one of America’s finest comic writers, an author who can prompt Chuck Palahniuk to write: ‘I laughed out loud – and I never laugh out loud’. A critical sensation on both sides of the Atlantic, this is a ridiculously accomplished, ridiculously entertaining novel that sympathises even as it skewers.

I was hoping this would be a caustic campus novel. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find there is little university-related entertainment here. Actually there is precious little entertainment anywhere to be found. It’s all just a bit unpleasant really. And not terribly comic at all.





Tinkering around

3 11 2011

George Smiley, small, podgy and at best middle-aged, is one of the meek who do not inherit the earth. Yet he is also a senior British Intelligence officer, as devastating as he is self-effacing.

In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy we meet him in short-lived retirement, deserted by his beautiful wife, wrestling with idleness and disillusionment. And haunted by the secret fear that one day, out of a past so complex that he himself could not remember all the enemies he might have made, one of them would find him and demand a reckoning.

At the dead of night, in the house of a member of the Cabinet Office, a mission is put to George Smiley. ‘You’ll take the job, clean the stables? Go backwards, go forwards, do whatever is necessary?’ As Smiley retraces path after path into his own past there is no longer any difference between the two: forwards or backwards, George Smiley has embarked on a blind night walk with God knows how many bodies at the end.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a world of hoods and lamplighters, scalphunters and pavement artists, where men are turned, burned or bought for stock; a world of moles, legmen, listeners and watchers. And George Smiley is one of le Carré’s most memorable heroes: a troubled man and superb professional of infinite compassion.

Inspired to read this by the recent film adaptation but really should have done the other way round. Nevertheless, it’s a cracking tale and intelligently written. Quite compelling and really well worth reading if you’ve not done before. And preferably before seeing the film (or the TV adaptation on DVD).








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