My only experience of Solaris before receiving the book for Christmas was the overly confusing 2002 adaptation starring George Clooney. Despite the film being just a tad over an hour and a half long the production runs so slowly that the runtime feels similar to that of one of the extended editions of Lord of the Rings… and yet I have put myself through the movie twice in my life in the hopes of figuring out what the hell is going on. Receiving the book was a nice surprise – I love it when people buy me ‘obscure’ literature – and had me excited to see whether the translated pages of the original filled in the gaps left by the unfortunate Hollywood adaptation.
This is the first novel that I have ever read by Polish author Stanislaw Lem and so I can’t really comment on the job made with its translation – my edition’s translation being performed by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox – whether it perfectly conveys the ideas that Lem was trying to get across or not. What I can say what that their work made the text extremely accessible. Before this I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and, despite Huxley’s work not needing translation due to the author being English, found this translated Polish novel a lot more enjoyable to read.
The novel presents the reader with a mystery and, barring the lovely (somewhat dated) technological ideas that people in the past had for our future, it still holds up today. From the first few pages I was enraptured by what was going on, itching to see whether Lem would provide me with the answer to the questions he was presenting. Whether he would spell out his idea of individuality, of personality that he contemplates within the pages. In the end he both does and does not answer his own questions.
As the novel is told from the perspective of his main character, Kelvin, everything we learn of what is going on is through his narration, his internal monologue, and interactions with those around him. The answers we are given by the end are not those of the omniscient author, but of the possibly unreliable narrator. We are given his take on the situation, what the character believes to be the answer to everything. Whether we, the reader, choose to believe what Kelvin puts forward is obviously up to us but does leave the whole book up to interpretation.
Despite my edition being a little over 200 pages I felt that a large chunk of the last third of the book was unneeded. Lem went into rather overly technical detail when trying to explain certain events and, instead of fleshing out the world that he had created, it felt more like technical jargon from a text book than a novel. I found myself tuning out and then having to re-read what I had missed, only for it not to really add anything to the story as a whole. Even without such precise explanations I still believe that the mystery at the books core would have remained intact, if anything I think it would have improved it slightly.
That being said I was engrossed throughout and the answers provided at the end were enough that I did not come away from the book angry. I was lucky to receive another one of Lem’s works for Christmas and will look forward to the day when I start reading it.