I'm 150 pages into Ian McEwen's new novel Solar, and I love it.  It's laugh-out-loud funny, grippingly entertaining, timely, thought-provoking, and beautifully written.  Thanks to New York Times reviewer Walter Kirn, though, I've been reading it with a question mark in my head. No, I don't have a question about McEwen, I have a question about Kirn.  What's with him? And also: who is he?  As I rummage my mind for what he's written (besides a lot of book reviews), all that comes to mind is a children's book called Walter the Farting Dog, and Walter Kirn didn't write it.  That's how stupid his review is.

Now, a confession. I just read the first paragraph, because I hate the way so many book reviewers spoil books.  Most begin with a synopsis that gives away 90% of the plot. The idea seems to be that the sophisticated reader isn't interested in suspense.  Or perhaps what reviewers think is that there's enough suspense left if you don't know exactly what happens in the last 25 pages.  In any event, I wasn't going to let Walter ruin a book I was looking forward to reading.  As for the first paragraph--here it is:
According to the perverse aesthetics of artistic guilty pleasure, certain books and movies are so bad — so crudely conceived, despicably motivated and atrociously executed — that they’re actually rather good. “Solar,” the new novel by Ian McEwan, is just the opposite: a book so good — so ingeniously designed, irreproachably high-minded and skillfully brought off — that it’s actually quite bad. Instead of being awful yet absorbing, it’s impeccable yet numbing, achieving the sort of superbly wrought inertia of a Romanesque cathedral. There’s so little wrong with it that there’s nothing particularly right about it, either. It’s impressive to behold but something of a virtuous pain to read.
Completely baffling. My question for today is what time can I respectably set aside my official duties and read the last 100 pages of this delicious novel?  (And yes, I'll go back to the review, more or less as a guilty pleasure. Some reviews are so crudely conceived, despicably motivated and atrociously executed that they're actually rather good.)


Wayne said...

Hmmm I did enjoy me some Walter the Farting dog. (My wife is a third grade teacher.)

If he liked it, then should I not pick up Solar? In my critical thinking class, I try to defend movie reviewers, because students are very apt to dismiss them as just giving their opinion. I usually say something to the effect of, if someone shares your opinion frequently, they may have similar tastes, and therefore you can more often than not, trust that particular critic in terms of their movie reviews.

On a completely unrelated event, what do you think about the supreme court overturning the ban on marketing videos that depict animal cruelty? e.g. dogfighting/cockfighting videos before the ruling could not be sold, but after the ruling, they now can be sold. I'm torn on it.

Jean Kazez said...

Wayne, I was thinking about writing something about that, but then I was also torn, and didn't feel like I had a good grip on all the issues. It seems like the ruling is good to the extent that censorship could stop the good guys from creating videos that depict animal cruelty. Then again, in the real world the law that was struck down was just stopping people from distributing sick videos and profiting from cruelty. I must read more...and maybe post something later.