I have read all of Ian McEwan's novels and was particularly impressed by his latest three: Atonement, Saturday, and On Chesil Beach. Here's a writer at the height of his exceptional powers, and that's why I don't understand what he's trying to do in Solar. If anybody can help me out, I'd appreciate it.
To me, Solar reads like McEwan's first serious attempt at comedy--yes, the pun is intended. McEwan does not look like a genuine comedy writer to me--he should leave that to his rival Martin Amis, who is (or used to be?) one of my other favourite British authors. The devices of overstatement, farce, and the grotesque seem to have been applied too mechanically, and sit oddly with some of the more serious passages in the novel that recall the true McEwan.
The book turns on a plot that thickens and thickens, and then stops at the moment when everything threatens to go wrong for the main character, who is a malignant and fraudulous scientist. An appendix then presents a speech by the Nobel Prize Committee awarding the prize to the same main character, the speech containing a metaphor that has a genuine web of threads for its source domain. The web is held by six people who all have to pull at the same time, and then the web dissolves into its separate pieces of belt again. Apart from its thematic function in the narrative about science, this metaphor is also meant to suggest to the reader that this is how the denouement of the plot is to take place in their mind.
Unless I've missed something, of course.