Micheal Beard, four times divorced and having too much time to contemplate the collapse of his fifth marriage, is introduced to us with Ian McEwan's unique brush stroke; Beard attributed a rich mixture of foibles, perhaps so rich that in the amassing of his traits, I am a little lost in the welter of detail or else mildly irritated that the pace is put on hold until Beard is fully built. It is as if we are immediately presented by the whole album that describes Beard, rather than just those few snapshopts which would, the more fluously, unravel his essence without loss of pace.
Perhaps I should not dare to criticise a writer from whose writing I otherwise usually get such great satisfaction and, for the rest of the book, I'm relieved to say, I don't have to dare; for again I am drawn by the incisiveness of the snapshots themselves. For instance, in describing Beard we learn of his marriages being "... tidal, with one rolling out, just before another rolled in." This sound like a metaphor for the inevitability of his marital failure while also implying the loneliness of one man confronted by an ocean full of lady-fish but none staying long enough for him to savour; none long enough, for him to experience what McEwan might elsewhere call "enduring love."
Yet, despite Beard's hapless marriages and the mild disgust I felt for the "vaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat" and "clever" man, nevertheless, I couldn't help feeling a scintilla of pity for him as he at last confronts/repents at leisure with a consuming sense of "shame" and is ultimately reduced to a sort of "sexual masochism"; in that "No woman had ever looked or sounded so desirable as the wife [No. 5] who he suddenly could not have" while she was busy with another affair.
Though McEwan keeps Beard firmly seated under the microscope and turns up the magnification, I think that it is also the author's remorseless pursuit of truth - even when truth leaves a personality looking distinctly flawed, if not ugly - that I like so much.
The author's determination to lay bare - or in Beard's case, I should say lay 'shaven' - the essence of his characters, even though, for me, there is, sometimes, informational overload, is why I would continue to find Solar irresistible if I was only to read it for its characterisation.