Audiobook Review/Op-Ed: Solar

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Solar
by Ian McEwan
narrated by Roger Allam
Ⓟ 2010, Recorded Books
11 hours, 50 minutes (includes interview between the author and his editor)
LITERARY FICTION

This isn’t so much a review as it is a witness testimony, not like on a court stand, but more like what you might see and hear at a religious revival! I admit that, in the past , I have committed the literary sin of not “getting” Ian McEwan. I read On Chesil Beach and Saturday with due diligence and lit-fic sobriety. In doing so, I was underwhelmed by the prose and declared McEwan “overrated” in rendering the psychological thriller to nothing more than a Tale of Anxiety (and at that, of a white older male anxiety!)

Then, I saw the light. Someone in a group thread on a book social site mentioned that they had heard Ian McEwan read an excerpt from On Chesil Beach out loud with comic flair! And that the audience was not only enthralled, but laughing along with him! Hmmm, perhaps if I hadn’t dismissed my own sense of humour and replaced it with self-righteous literary pretensions, I might have enjoyed On Chesil Beach, and come to think of it, Saturday more than I had. With that in mind, I picked up Solar which I had heard was supposed to be pretty funny. Admittedly, I had also heard that this was not McEwan’s best and, as a validation of that opinion, it was not nominated for a ManBooker award. So it kind of figures, considering the high rate of ironic incidences in my life, that the McEwan that no one seems to like is the one that I absolutely adore!

The story features Michael Beard, a Nobel laureate who, when we meet him in his early fifties, is wallowing around in the collapse of his fifth marriage, a deteriorating body, and work in physics that is neither intellectually stimulating nor rewarding. The whole of Solar takes place over the course of about ten years (1999-2009) in which we watch Michael Beard muck his way around and through relationships, work and his health, always holding onto the promise of the next chapter in his life. It would be very easy to attach a lot of symbolic import to various artifices in the novel; but after listening to the interview of the author with his editor, you realize that, in doing so, you would be projecting too much into the novel. It is what it is and; what it is is a very honest portrayal of a man with all the absurdist elements that that may imply. Perhaps those who don’t like this novel don’t want to acknowledge that Michael Beard is very much an Everyman and, by default themselves; but I found common cause with the character for being flawed. Rather than finding Michael Beard an unlikable character, I was morbidly fascinated with his ability to have gotten as far as he had. I often found myself cheering for Michael even while admitting that he brought on most of his problems himself.

Roger Allam is a British narrator who delivered Ian McEwan’s novel flawlessly. The production uses British pronunciations, which may sound awkward to American ears, but it does not interfere with the understanding or enjoyment of the story. Allam reads the book “straight,” without comic intonations and also without dropping into the deadly neutral zone 🙂

I loved Solar and I can’t wait to read McEwan’s next novel! 

OTHER: I borrowed a MP3-CD edition of Solar (by Ian McEwan; narrated by Roger Allam) from the Jackson County LIbrary System (Southern Oregon.) I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post. 

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Book Review: Eleven

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Eleven
By Patricia Highsmith
Foreword by Graham Greene
Atlantic Monthly Press, January 1994
PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER

  1. The Snail Watcher
  2. The Birds Poised to Fly
  3. The Terrapin
  4. When the Fleet was in at Mobile
  5. The Quest for Blank Claveringi
  6. The Cries of Love
  7. Mrs Afton, among thy Green Braes
  8. The Heroine
  9. Another Bridge to Cross
  10. The Barbarians
  11. The Empty Birdhouse

Eleven is a collection of eleven short stories, ostensibly shelved in the “Mystery and Suspense” genre, but really tends to be more in the vein of “Psychological Thriller” or even “Horror.” Mysteries generally develop along the lines of “whodunits”: plots with clues and denouement; whereas Highsmith’s shorts are studies into the dark taint of the human mind. Greed, vanity, paranoia and cynicism are treated in the stories with morbid fascination and leave the reader with a sense of unease and maybe even a shiver of recognition. The stories are disturbing for what they suggest: that each man, woman and even child lives with a fragile tension between their dark natures and societal constraints and; that it doesn’t take much for any individual to tip over and indulge their more horrific aspects.

OTHER: A new retail paperback copy of Eleven (by Patricia Highsmith; Foreword by Graham Greene) was purchased and shelved in our home. Apologies as I do not recall the source/vendor. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.