Thursday, June 19, 2008


Having found the ending to Atonement totally exasperating, I was pleasantly surprised to have the opposite response to Ian McEwan's Amsterdam. Molly Lane has just died after a slow, sad deterioration. Two of her former lovers, Vernon, a newspaper editor, and Clive, a composer, make a pact to ensure that the other doesn't suffer such an ignominious decline. We then get a closer look into the personalities of these two men. At first it seems that Clive is a better friend—more thoughtful and unselfish—even as he contemplates that he may be England's first musical genius. He has been commissioned to write a symphony for the new millennium and is under the gun to finish it. Vernon, on the other hand, is fighting to increase circulation of his newspaper in order to save his job. He seems more materialistic, willing to tarnish a despised politician's reputation in order to sell newspapers. However, the tables turn when Clive witnesses a man assaulting a woman but can't be bothered while he's on the brink of coming up with the perfect riff that will make his symphony a masterpiece. The two men become equally despicable, each concluding that the other has lost his marbles. The book raises the issue of human euthanasia and how to determine if it's warranted. The metaphors are just stunning, including one sentence where McEwan likens clothes hanging in a closet to commuters sitting side-by-side on the train. The writing, coupled with the intriguing, nuanced characters, just blew me away.

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