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The Real Life of Edward St. Aubyn
  1. Lesson Plan on "Atonement" by Ian McEwan
  2. AMSTERDAM - IAN MCEWAN Reviews, Summary, Story, Price, Online, Fiction, Nonfiction
  3. What's Related
  4. Stolen Child
  5. Ian McEwan’s art of unease.

At the literary festival in Wales, McEwan had read a comic excerpt in which Beard boards a train with a bag of potato chips. He is incensed when his seat mate opens the package and starts eating. McEwan had thanked the nurse in his acknowledgments. McEwan claimed to be unfazed by the Wales incident. The chips story, he said, was an urban legend dating to the nineteen-twenties.

Your life is suddenly rendered inauthentic. So you have a spire with a glowing orb.

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We entered a sunlit glade. McEwan immediately pointed out what was missing: a profusion of frogs, wildflowers, orchids, dragonflies. I see not a one. Completed in , the square is bordered by four-story mansions, painted along the spectrum between cream and white. During his apprenticeship, McEwan played one of his scientific games. They were very respectful. On the first of several visits to Fitzroy Square, McEwan greeted me at the door in a state of genial distraction.

He was throwing a party that evening—it was June 20th, the day before his sixtieth birthday—and, like Clarissa Dalloway, he needed to run some errands in the West End. McEwan took me downstairs into the kitchen to prepare coffee. The house has so many floors that each domestic act necessitates a stair climb. There are two sitting rooms, two studies, two libraries, and a room for watching movies. Walking upstairs with our mugs, we passed McAfee. They married in ; it was the second marriage for both.

The marriage is, by all accounts, tranquil: they like to cook and listen to chamber music at Wigmore Hall, which is in walking distance. McAfee, who is fifty-six, has light-brown hair, green eyes, and a composed wit. He apparently gets sent a lot of lion blood in the post. McEwan led me into the ground-floor sitting room and sat on a brown leather sofa.

On a lacquered side table, a collection of liquor bottles propped up an unframed eight-by-ten photograph: McEwan, Hitchens, and Amis, their arms thrown around one another. We went to see where he put ashore and took samples. McEwan and Hitchens were among the regulars. You could have disgusting conversations with other friends.

Larkin came up a lot. Stuff by friends—Craig Raine, James Fenton.

Lesson Plan on "Atonement" by Ian McEwan

Sometimes Shakespeare. Pulling books off shelves and just tasting things. Amis told me that McEwan and he, for all their affinities, have little in common as prose stylists. I like Bach more than I like Wagner, chamber music more than orchestral music. I like a certain kind of terseness into which the occasional image will shine brighter. Style is an extension of personality. Not only the pleasure of the reader but also of the writer.

Writing is a self-pleasuring act. McEwan chatted briefly with him about Argentina—in two days, Greg was beginning a semester abroad. I used to really like the blues. He taught me my first chords. He was born in , in Aldershot, southwest of London, but he spent most of his childhood abroad, at military bases. For a time, they stayed on a peanut farm. His father, David, a career Army officer, worked long hours, and McEwan was often alone with his mother, Rose, a housewife. From the start, he enjoyed contemplating his brain.

Her first, to a housepainter named Ernest Wort, produced a son, Jim, and a daughter, Margy. Wort served in the Second World War, and died from combat injuries in Three years later, Rose married David McEwan, who wanted little to do with his stepchildren. As a result, McEwan felt like an only child. She was a great worrier, which requires an imagination. She was always convinced that she left the iron on. David McEwan, an acutely intelligent man—he received the highest test scores in his school district before his mother asked him to drop out and start earning a wage—served in the Second World War, and was wounded at Dunkirk; the Army offered to send him to college, but he declined.

From to , they lived in Germany, watching television each night without understanding a word. In February, , McEwan learned from a family-tracing service that he had an older brother. McEwan made contact with his brother, Dave Sharp, who lives in Oxfordshire. Sharp was surprised when someone waylaid McEwan for an autograph while McEwan was ordering drinks at the bar.

A gene for hotel preference awaits expression. Since the meeting, there have been tense moments, especially in , when Sharp told the story of his adoption to a British tabloid without informing McEwan. His dad, who died in , spoke freely into a tape recorder about the horrors of Dunkirk. He hit the roof. Turn the damn thing off! Clearly, he met my mother in , not His mother plainly felt the loss of her son. When McEwan was seven, she told him that he was about to have a new brother.

The McEwans had petitioned to adopt a child. But, at the last moment, the adoption agency told the McEwans that a life of foreign postings was unstable. McEwan now wonders if the agency had learned of the trail of abandoned children. In , he wrote an essay about his anticipatory fantasies concerning Bernard—his first fictional character. The act of giving away one child, McEwan believes, set in motion a perverse pattern. When Ian was eleven, his parents enrolled him at an English boarding school.

My half brother and half sister were sent away. Not till my brother appeared did all that come into focus. McEwan recalls sobbing as he boarded the plane from Libya to England, but the experience allowed him to reinvent himself. Woolverstone Hall, in Suffolk, was an experimental school for bright but disadvantaged children. McEwan was a timid pupil but a voracious reader.

In , in the school magazine, McEwan published a darkly comic poem commemorating the recent decision in Britain to outlaw capital punishment. I was crippled by this, and refused to answer any more questions. I was just so humiliated. He arrived in , and by his final year had developed two new passions: reading Freud and writing fiction. From the beginning, his prose had an unnerving discipline.

Descriptions were precise; there was no failed wordplay or tortured metaphors; sentences had a razored gleam. I would stare at it suspiciously. Did it really say what I meant? Did it contain an error or an ambiguity that I could not see? Was it making a fool of me? That was extraordinary. McEwan soon became friendly with Roth, who was living in London at the time.

He was really passionate. I was flattered—Philip, by that time, was colossal. But it would be a novel by Philip Roth. McEwan developed a notorious public persona. Nasty, yes. Erotic, prophetic, even at times delicious; inventive, lewd, insolent and lyrical, to be sure; always grimly fantastic; but nice, never. At first, he studied perversity; now he studies normality. His first god was Freud. Now it is Darwin. McEwan first confronted Islamism in , when the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was declared.

McEwan had access to a cottage in the Cotswolds, and Rushdie secretly stayed with him there. Terrible time for him. He was standing right by my side and he was the lead item on the news. Hezbollah had put its sagacity and weight behind the project to kill him. There seems no good reason to think so.

He was more. And beads, I think. A bit of that. She was divorced and had two daughters, Polly and Alice. She would read his stuff and talk seriously about it. McEwan struggled to find scientific grounding for such alternative beliefs.

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  • McEwan and Allen married three years later, and she and her daughters moved into the house. Allen was a less natural fit. I tried to accommodate it. They would have been excited. What richness! I thought I could do it behind the fig leaf of a rather loose interpretation of quantum mechanics. They became close, and by the late eighties were taking hikes that lasted for days. They read biographies of Darwin and visited his home in Kent. She was delivered into herself, she was changed. This, now, here. Surely this was what existence strained to be, and so rarely had the chance: to savor itself fully in the present.

    On the other hand, my spiritual dimension is so out of focus that all I can say is that it is an ill-defined dissatisfaction, a feeling that the material visible world is not either quite all or all that it seems. Over time, the material world came to seem more than enough. McEwan began exchanging friendly e-mails with Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist who is an outspoken atheist.

    They argued over custody, and in Allen, who was living in Brittany, ran off with Greg, who was then thirteen. Garton Ash recalls being in a hotel restaurant with McEwan, and realizing that all the other diners in the room were journalists. McEwan took him back to Oxford. McEwan was given full custody of the boys, and he has remained close with his stepdaughters.

    AMSTERDAM - IAN MCEWAN Reviews, Summary, Story, Price, Online, Fiction, Nonfiction

    A Romantic scholar, she doubts his evidence that he is being stalked, and nearly ends up dead. He had a female teacher. And he had to write an essay: Who was the moral center of the book? I mean, I only wrote the damn thing. As McEwan has grown more outspoken in his rationalism, his books have become fully anchored in old-fashioned realism.

    His few gestures toward the postmodern have been gingerly. Make something, and die. Similar to The Children Act in its use of classical music one of the main characters is a classical composer , it is almost too clean, too moralizing, too easily tied up. But really, those are my only major complaints. I found it fascinating at parts and love love love it when Ian McEwan writes fiction about composing or music.

    There are a few writers I've "There really wasn't much else to do. There are a few writers I've read recently who do a fantastic job of incorporating classical music into their stories. Vollmann also gets a nod with parts of Europe Central. Anyway, I love it. There are certain realities that a great prose stylist can almost lift off the page.

    For me, McEwan's writing about music in this book is what keeps it at four stars and doesn't drop it to three. View all 8 comments. Jun 03, Duane rated it really liked it Shelves: book-challenge , mystery-crime , english-calssics , booker-prize , rated-books , reviewed-books. My third Ian McEwan and another excellent read. Not quite on the level of Atonement , but still good, good enough to win the Booker Prize. It has a different feel than the other two, more of a modern day intrigue.

    Interesting characters, though not all that likeable, a little too elitist for me, but McEwan's storyline carries the day.

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    The best character may be the one they buried at the beginning of the book, Molly. McEwan should write a prequel centering around her character. What is this absurd nonsense. Everything I wrote yesterday about Black Dogs in terms of plot and characterisation applies equally to Amsterdam , except where Black Dogs attempts but fails to be a good novel, Amsterdam seems to lack even the intention.

    It is impossible to take this novel seriously. The characters are ridiculous. The plot is ridiculous. The entire novel is a setup to a conclusion so laughably stupid, that it made me want reevaluate my ratings of McEwan's other novels. Sure, it What is this absurd nonsense. Sure, it kept me turning the pages, but for what? A cheap thriller, and not even a good one. This won the Booker? Feb 01, Jr Bacdayan rated it liked it.

    Wait, is that a compliment? It was a mental mix-up, tame compared to what others do. Who are we kidding?!! I bet the thing you did was so mothafucking insane that even dear old Adolf grinned in his grave. Something so inherently out there, like unwittingly thinking that adding Zombies to Pride and Prejudice is a marvelous idea.

    Basically, you fucked up. Big time! So… did it involve a dabble into nudity? A botched public performance, perhaps? A drunken spree?

    Stolen Child

    Or did you give five stars to Twilight or some other raunchy, gaudy, teenage vampire novel? Or is it secretly liking Fifty Shades of Grey? Come on out now. We all did a lot of incipiently stupid things. No reason to feel bad at all. You rot in hell. Just kidding. Whatever floats your boat, you freak. Bloody idiotic autobiographies! So, I was saying something about your top embarrassing thing.

    Sometimes though, your most embarrassing, stupidest decision can be getting into a relationship with someone who, so to speak, is a nut-job. And when one of your old friends bring it up, God help their soul, you feel like hell will break loose. Ahh, the idiocy of our past selves can be sincerely comical and infuriating at the same time.

    Can your former relationships dictate the outcome of your life? Can the most embarrassing things secretly take hold of the reigns controlling your metaphorical chariot? It just occurred to me that McEwan started this book thinking of one thing, but proceeded to make something completely different as he ended. He started out with an intricate scene, the funeral of Molly, the woman who, all four main characters fucked at one point or another; I guess you could even say loved. McEwan goes on to complexly develop these four characters, four intellectuals, only to later on turn them into idiots and complete fuck-ups.

    I guess there were certain things that pushed them off the edge. The turn from top-notch human beings into the mindless morons was a little too briskly done for my taste. Somehow, it can be argued that a part of their insanity can be attributed to the death of Molly, but this is just speculation. Loose morals and a complete disregard for anyone other than the self is the balmy target of this erratically weird tale. I saw the signs, but I actually refused to believe that the great McEwan would be so.. I was surprised by something I had dismissed as beneath the author. But when you arrive at close proximity, alas, your eyes hath deceiveth you.

    I hate it when this happens to me. Still, the unfulfilled potential of this book makes me sad. The fact that this won the Man Booker makes me sadder. But, thinking about my embarrassing moments make me saddest. View all 9 comments. Jan 13, Madeline rated it did not like it Shelves: the-list , ugh. Having only read two of his novels so far this one and Atonement , I obviously can't speak for his entire body of work, but at the moment I am astonished at McEwan's ability to make all female love interests in his stories utterly unappealing.

    First Cecilia Tallis, now Molly Lane.

    Ian McEwan’s art of unease.

    At least Molly, for all intents and purposes, does not actually matter in the grand scope of this book. When it starts she's already dead, and her husband and numerous former lovers the three main ones are a politician, a newspaper editor, and a composer are gathered at her funeral. The men reminisce about Molly and will continue to do so at random throughout the story, but she is never a real presence in the book - I got the sense that none of these men actually knew her, so the reader doesn't get to either.

    Anyway, the shit hits the fan when Molly's husband goes through her stuff and finds some very compromising photos of the previously-mentioned politician, taken by Molly. The husband wants to sell the photos to the newspaper editor, the editor talks it over with the composer, the politician freaks out I had two big problems with this book, which I will try to describe as best I can. I didn't like anyone in this story. Molly wasn't even a person, so she's out, and the two central characters the composer and the editor seemed to be competing for the prize of Most Horrible Human Being.

    It was a tight race, to be sure, but in the end I was forced to give the award to the composer, who witnesses a woman being attacked and walks away from it. I still don't know what McEwan was trying to do with this book. Is is supposed to be a nostalgic love story? A political story? A twisted morality tale? At the end, which I guess is supposed to be a very emotionally gripping and powerful scene, just left me confused and annoyed because after all that trouble, I had very little idea of what the whole thing was supposed to be about.

    What, exactly, was the point? View all 25 comments. I gave Amsterdam two stars because it's so short and there's this weird kind of peculiar joy when you read it. Look, 20 pages! Halfway through! Other than that, it's one of those boring white-collar novels featuring the seemingly enlightening but nonethelessly ponderous, intelectual and philosophical musings of succesful, rich people who live in their big villas and feel sorry for themselves.

    None of the characters is memorable or likeable, and the novella it's under pages never r I gave Amsterdam two stars because it's so short and there's this weird kind of peculiar joy when you read it. None of the characters is memorable or likeable, and the novella it's under pages never really gains any sort of coherence. I don't think McEwan himself knew what he wanted to do - a nostalgic love story? A social parable? A morality tale? Character study? Bits of these surface, but are swallowed by the meandering and unfocused plot or what can be described as one and boring, self-absorbed characters.

    It's not humorous enough to be funny, not suspenseful to be gripping, and not challenging to be thought provoking. It just is , bland pseudo-intelectual pulp fiction masqueraded as "novel of ideas" that are supposed to be challenging but never really hit the mark. McEwan should have won the Booker for Atonement which is a far, far superior work, moving and memorable.

    Amsterdam reads fast, but the memories of it evaporate even faster. View all 6 comments. Nov 18, Chris rated it liked it. I tried to read McEwan's Enduring Love, was bored by a little too much phoned-in prose, and ended up reading Amsterdam instead, because it sat on the shelf of my rental, between The Lovely Bones and a Harlequin Intrigue sampler. In retrospect, that was about right. What the hell, Amsterdam. I read you in two days, like you were a Hardy Boys book.

    I'm halfway already! L I tried to read McEwan's Enduring Love, was bored by a little too much phoned-in prose, and ended up reading Amsterdam instead, because it sat on the shelf of my rental, between The Lovely Bones and a Harlequin Intrigue sampler. Look at me go! It's difficult to reconcile the happy raptness with which I turned its pages nearly twelve words on each!

    But I had to get to the very ridiculous end before my inner monologue of "pffff! Basically, it fooled me, but I want to unravel its veteran tricks, and the excitement of its false promise was rare enough that, even when confronted by the letdown of its ultimate tackiness, I still feel kind of fondly toward it. Nov 16, K. Absolutely rated it liked it Recommended to K. Shelves: booker , non-core. My 2nd book by Ian Russell McEwan born I have a copy of all his 11 novels except his latest ones, On Chesil Beach and Solar.

    I am waiting for them to show up in my favorite second-hand books store. Enduring Love was my first by him. I read it last year and I liked it so much that I would not want to read another of his book. I guess I was afraid I would be disappointed and considering that I have all his books, what would I do with them if I did not like the 2nd? That is possible, right? Sadly, those two books are miles away from his brilliance in Birdsong. It is as if Birdsong was written entirely by a different person. I have all those in my bedroom side table except the last one.

    Amsterdam is a story of three men who are all ex-lovers of Molly who they were burying at the novel's opening scene. There is Clive Linley the well-known composer who is tasked by the government to compose a symphonic piece to be used for millennium celebration. Clive's bestfriend is Vernon Halliday , the editor of the newspaper The Judge whose circulation is dwindling and he is tasked to reverse it so he was hired as the 6th editor just in a span of 3 years. Lastly, there is the foreign secretary, Julian Garmony who is eyeing the prime minister post in the next election. The main theme is about how far will a man go for the sake of him ambition or objective.

    Can Vernon disregard his friendship with Clive just to put his newspaper back on the top? Can Vernon violate his cherish memories with Molly and derail the political ambition of Julian? Can Clive ignore a crime that he witnessed just to concentrate with his symphony?

    Full Lesson Plan Overview

    Because of its theme of human frailty, this is a scary book. Just like Enduring Love his narration is crisp and seems to be so plain that, if you are not used to him, you could miss what is happening. It is like a still lake, so still that it seems to be inviting you to throw a stone and marvel at the ripples. Then suddenly, there is a monster that will spring out from the still water because your stone disturbed him from his century-long sleep.

    No exaggeration here. As you leaf through the pages, you will be surprised by the turns and twists of the story. You cannot second-guess McEwan's storytelling: to where will he is bringing you as you leaf one page after the next. One lacking star only for my unfamiliarity with British stuff my fault. Mar 05, Kelly rated it really liked it Shelves: brit-lit , fiction , owned , 20th-century-postwar-to-late.

    I suppose my experience of reading this book can be best compared to hearing Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, then the Ninth Symphony, and then being played the Moonlight Sonata. It isn't that this book is any less deserving of praise than Atonement or Enduring Love I shall leave it to you to figure out which one I classed as the Eroica and which one as the Ninth.

    Both the plot and the scope of Amsterdam are very tightly controlled, and clearly driven towards the point at the end. One could feel the prose moving you along McEwan's intended course towards the proper mood to find the end. This is not to say that the language isn't as important as his other novels. I think in fact that it is even more important here. Rather than the sometimes beautifully rambling tone of his other work that could take a bit of a scenic route to get towards its point, letting it creep up on you unawares, McEwan instead makes his piercingly described and chosen words serve a double purpose.

    This would make Amsterdam perhaps the most poetic of his novels in technique, considering how carefully every word seemed to be chosen. McEwan still manages to deal with very big themes here. The basic plotline his patented single event with a moral problem and the various consequences for the people involved. In this case, it is the death of Molly Lane, a woman beloved of at least four of the men featured, and how their reactions to her death shape all of their lives.

    His standard dilemma of moral decisions gone wrong is present, of course. He writes about the meaning of friendship, how mere moods and selfishness change our entire worldview, love lost, the effect of one's death upon loved ones, and embodies three different kinds of need in the three major male characters in the novel. I won't elaborate too much but I think it is debatable which of these men feels love, which desire, which the need to be saved.

    Or if it is a combination of all three. He still manages to sneak in a bit of black comedy for some reason all the reviews on the book seemed to focus on this one point. Perhaps because it is so unusual in a McEwan novel. This book is heartbreaking, make no mistake, but in a quieter way. In an awful, unexpected way that is no less touching for the brevity of his treatment of it.

    In a way, I think it makes it more powerful that the book is so short. We miss so much, we are left to imagine and fill in the gaps. I don't know if you've seen Casablanca, those reading this. But if you have This little short statement is by no means his grandest novel, either in tone or subject, but I do not think that detracts from its value. In any case- very much recommended. I would read Enduring Love or Atonement first so as to understand the scope of what the author is capable of, but then this, to show the lovely, little, other end of the spectrum.

    I think that this has value, too. View all 20 comments. Dec 14, Betsy Robinson rated it liked it. And that alone makes me love his work. I can sum up many a professional training session at best in these words. In most cases, what happens afterwards is that on getting home and reflecting a bit on the days spent, I invariably end up remembering close to nothing from those glitzy presentations nor the content.

    I am sometimes left to wonder at the sheer pointlessness of it all. These mirror my feelings after this book. Why Mr. What was the bloody point in this story? There are four principal characters in the story and the entire thing could have been wrapped up in well under pages. The author however chooses to elongate this into a novella that tries to push into the novel genre. The end result being that it's like underwear that is neither here nor there! One of the major characters-cum-plot drivers is dead at the time of the opening of the book and we are given passing references to her details.

    It's like that frustrating experience when someone points out Oh Oh! Look who's there! This main character is more of a caricature and is quite absurd in what she does and how she does it. The book blurb calls this a contemporary morality tale but it's more of a befuddling sludge of nothingness! The male protagonists get a lot of background built up around them and a load of verbal furniture get strewn around in the rooms that they inhabit as characters to be finally let down in a disastrous climax.

    There was an attempt to build a twist into the climax but frankly I had given up interest in the book a long time ago. The two stars are for McEwan's writing prowess for I find a lot of good writing in an otherwise unremarkable book. A novella rather than a full length book, this was a very quick read. I enjoyed the black humour and the satire - vaguely reminiscent of Muriel Spark but not so clever - and some of the writing is excellent.

    I thought the premise of the book and the ending were silly though. View all 4 comments. Oct 14, Mike Puma rated it really liked it Shelves: english-author , , booker-prize-fiction. The novel speaks to maturity and human faults, friendships jeopardized by experience, loyalty, memory, civic obligation—themes that may not address the concerns of every reader. Amsterdam is well-crafted—every detail serves a purpose and reveals its place in the narrative—all the pieces fit together perfectly.

    In fact, the novel is so tightly crafted, it reads like the best of short stories and lends itself to a very quick reading, and from which, it gains. Why only four stars? Why not five? Possibly because I liked Atonement so much more. Most likely, the fault is mine and due to my own expectations.

    He hangs it in a loft somewhere, and maybe somebody buys it or no one buys it…but…you know? He did it and that was it. Have fun with Amsterdam. Laugh along with it. Aug 10, Will Ansbacher rated it liked it Shelves: ebook. I think really only 2. There is a fair bit of sardonic humour involving the two friends — Clive, a musician commissioned to compose an Opus for the Millennium this is and Vernon, chief editor of a declining newspaper with an eye for an explosive front page.

    Through a bit of contrivance the two friends are then at each others' throats, and within a few pages, the novella ends abruptly in Amsterdam with mutual though unintended euthanasia. Throughout, the humour tends to be a bit laboured, veering at several points into farcical set pieces about gutter-press style front pages or vapid lifestyle columns; in many ways Amsterdam reads more like a film script than an actual book.

    Shakespeare used to use Venice as a setting for wickedness and corruption because Italian cities were fair game and a beaut contrast to the respectabilities of England. McEwan has used Amsterdam as a place of freedom to do dreadful things with drugs and state-sanctioned deaths, and to deliver a shocking finale to this very entertaining book. A reviewer called Kirkham on Amazon dismissed this book as 'middle-brow fiction British style - strong on the surface, vapid at the centre', but I don't agr Shakespeare used to use Venice as a setting for wickedness and corruption because Italian cities were fair game and a beaut contrast to the respectabilities of England.

    A reviewer called Kirkham on Amazon dismissed this book as 'middle-brow fiction British style - strong on the surface, vapid at the centre', but I don't agree. Molly Lane dies, and her lovers meet at her funeral. Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday are great friends, united in their dislike of Molly's husband, George, who's stuffy and pretentious. Clive's a successful composer, struggling with writing a Millenium Symphony.

    How long ago the Millenium fuss seems now! He's not avant-garde, he's got pretensions to Beethoven. McEwan mocks him a bit, because he's popular and therefore probably lowbrow, but he paints an interesting picture of the artist at work. Clive is at pains to shrug off the 'creative genius must-not-be-disturbed while in seclusion' tag. He makes time for his friends and he schedules his responsibilities to fit in around his composing efforts.

    But clearly something is not quite right because the deadline looms as the Millenium did and the work's not finished. Clive finds he has to get some peace and quiet and takes himself off to climb in the Lake district and allow the muse to come The trouble is, that he is interrupted, even there. He's had a row with his mate Vernon, a not-very-successful editor of a newspaper which is struggling to compete with the cut-throat world of English tabloid 'journalism'.

    He is at war with the 'Old Grammarians', a pun to show their links to both the old public schools and the old ways of writing - he wants to do upmarket tabloids, with feature articles on 'Siamese twins in local government'. There's a very funny comment on this type of writing in which the editor discusses revamping their columns with the team, suggesting that they hire 'someone of low to medium intelligence, possibly female, to write about, well, nothing much.

    You've seen the sort of thing. Goes to a party and can't remember someone's name Twelve hundred words. I think of this excerpt often when I scan today's papers, and every now and again I email it to the editor, with so far no impact whatsoever, but I live in hope Anyway, Vernon has some compromising photos of the loathesome Garmony. Taken by Molly, they capture him in his pathetic cross-dressing.

    These photos are the subject of major debate even before publication - with injunctions in court, rival papers sneering at their use and so on. Clive tears Vernon apart because the freedom to be a cross-dresser is one of the freedoms they fought for in the 70s. Vernon wants to bring down Garmony because he's a racist, a hypocrite, and a 'scourge of immigrants, asylum seekers, travellers, marginal people' p73 but Clive believes that 'if it's ok to be a transvestite, then it's ok for a racist to be one.

    What's not ok is to be a racist Inspiration eventually comes, but so too does a rapist intent on harming a solitary female hiker. Clive sees the start of the violence, but - in the service of his 'art' - does not intervene. When Vernon hears about this he is outraged, and when he is sacked over the photo fallout, he decides to avenge himself. Here the story becomes grand farce, as the two friends meet up in Amsterdam to poison each other. Clive is livid because the finale of his new symphony is no good.

    It's derivative and unfinished because Vernon intervened and called in the police about the hiker, just in the last couple of days that Clive needed to finish off the composition. Not everyone likes the shocking ending, but I think it works. A reviewer on Amazon calls it Jacobean, something I should have picked up myself, considering my degree in Eng Lit at Melbourne University, where we studied Jacobean plays in some detail.

    Amsterdam is in my opinion a morality play where reprehensible characters get their comeuppance in a 'tragedian bloodbath'. There are much delicious satire in this book, such as the description of Clive's mansion in its various incarnations as a flower child's pad p45 and a composer's hideaway, still holding the detritus of the passing years. It's quite clear p64 that Clive is a very wealthy, comfortable snob and slob!

    He sneers at modern music p22 and writes the kind of stuff the public likes p23 - but there's also a lovely passage which resonates with anyone creative about how the muse comes on p There's also an interesting thread about euthanasia. Molly dies a ghastly undignified death from some horrible disease that prevented her not only from caring for herself but also from tidying up her own affairs which was how the photos got into Vernon's hands.

    Appalled by this, Colin and Vernon made a pact to 'help each other out' if ever either one should be unable to fend for themselves, and it looks here as if McEwan is making a strong case for trusting someone with power of attorney to end the suffering of the terminally ill. However, considering how things turn out between Colin and Vernon, McEwan's view seems to be that even the best of friends can't be trusted with the power of life and death over another.