There's nothing about the coffee-shops... — 5 years ago
An ex-photographer and a well known restaurant critic, Molly Lane had been a beautiful, lively and funny lady. Her life had, sadly, been cut short through illness – a condition that had began with something as simple as a tingling in her arm. “Amsterdam” opens in early February, at Molly’s memorial service.
Despite being married to George, Mollie had been a rather prolific lover – she’d had a string of affairs and (apparently) never really cared for her husband. However, for some reason, she’d never actually left him. George is the head of a publishing `empire’, one that operates in the crackpot conspiracy theories sector. His company also own a very small percentage of `The Judge’, a `quality’ newspaper based in London. He appears to be a morose, possessive man – a vaguely ridiculous character, though one who may have genuinely loved his wife. George had cared for Molly himself throughout her illness, rather than installing her in a home.
Among the mourners is Clive Linley, a famous and successful composer who had known Molly from their student days. He had been one of Molly’s former lovers and is possibly a little deluded : he is convinced that he was the only one who had ever truly loved her, and that it should have been him who married her. Clive is currently writing the Millennial Symphony and, although it’s close to completion, it’s something that seems to be causing him a little stress. (A trip to the Lake District may just be the tonic he needs – Clive enjoys hiking, and sometimes visits the area when in need of inspiration). Unfortunately, Clive’s stress levels aren’t helped by vague tingle in his hand…and fears he has the same early symptoms that Molly had shown. Clive feels that Molly’s decline robbed her of her dignity, and – given the opportunity – he believes he would have `helped’ her die. When he decides that he’d want the same thing for himself, there’s only one person he would ask to help him.
Vernon Halliday is Clive’s oldest friend and another of Molly’s ex-lovers. He and Molly had lived together for a year in Paris, though he’s currently based in London. He’s currently the editor of `The Judge’ – a position he’d won by being generally inoffensive, getting wildly lucky with a major scoop and then not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The previous four editors had been fired for failing to improve the newspaper’s declining sales…Vernon is hoping to avoid their fate, by taking the newspaper towards the tabloid end of the market. Unfortunately, the situation seems to be getting to him a little, and he’s feeling a little stretched. Like Clive, Vernon doesn’t have a very high opinion of George – oddly enough, though, George may be in a position to offer both Vernon and the newspaper a helping hand. When going through Molly’s effects, he’d stumbled across s few tasty photos of Julian Garmony – another on Molly’s ex-lovers, and a high-ranking politician that both Vernon and Clive positively detest…
Garmony is a thoroughly unpleasant individual, a nasty xenophobe who (amazingly) holds the position of Foreign Secretary. (It’s probably the sort of appointment a politician would probably find quite logical. Sadly, and unsurprisingly, he’s also the hot favourite to be the next Prime Minister). He’s strongly in favour of hanging, a punishment he once felt should have been applied to Nelson Mandela. (It’s a position that should make his upcoming trip to South Africa a little spicy). Unfortunately, Clive and Vernon disagree on what should be done with the photos…Vernon is very keen to publishing them, and Garmony could well do with having the rug pulled from under his feet. However, Clive feels that publishing them would be a betrayal of Molly’s trust…
In “Amsterdam”, McEwan presents a collection of characters that aren’t too easy to admire. It’s really very difficult to feel any sympathy for Garmony, given his divisive views. George, Molly’s husband, is the one character we probably should feel sorry for, but – by the book’s end – I was left wondering why she had ever married him to begin with. Clive and Vernon’s friendship fragments as time passes, with Clive (in particular) becoming increasingly deluded as the book progresses. Not great, though a short and easily read book.