Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Price of Success

Ian McEwan has written some wonderful novels, among them my favorites, “Atonement”, “Saturday”, and “On Chisel Beach”. In 1998 he won The Booker Prize for “Amsterdam”. This short novel begins in London at the funeral of the lovely, free-spirited Molly Lane. Two of Molly's former lovers , Clive Linley, a famous classical symphony composer and Vernon Halliday, the editor in chief of a failing but renowned newspaper, are lamenting the horrible, debilitating disease that took Molly from them. They make a pact that if either one is ever so debilitated, the other will assist them in ending their lives. Enter Amsterdam, the city where one can legally commit euthanasia and where they could accomplish their pact.

Clive Linley has been commissioned to compose a Millennial symphony, but it has become almost impossible for him to complete. Vernon Halliday is the editor of a failing newspaper that he is trying desperately to resurrect.

Both men make moral choices to reach their goals. The choices involve doing “the right thing” or making a decision that will harm someone else. And, both decisions are ultimately made with selfish, heartless determination.

The results of these decisions are disastrous for both men. But, “Amsterdam’s” ending is also disingenuous. Clive and Vernon find themselves in Amsterdam with a pact to reckon with. The story itself is a page turner. Ian McEwan writes beautiful, simple and sometimes amusing prose. But, as interesting as the story is, with its strange turn of events, the ending is abrupt and not convincing. Ian McEwan has written a good novel but perhaps not as great as his other novels.

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