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The Lovers of Molly Lane
by Asa Butcher
2006-12-02 10:48:00
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Written by Ian McEwan
Random House, 1998

When a friend recommended Amsterdam as an excellent book to read I immediately ordered it from the local library and began reading it on the day it arrived in my hands. The title led me to believe the book was about drugs, the dust jacket carried a 19th century image of a duel with pistols leaving me to reconsider this as a Victorian love story and the fact it won the 1998 Booker Prize suggested that it was going to be a good read either way.

Well, the plot had nothing to do with drug abuse or ‘demands for satisfaction’, but it was certainly worthy of a number of literary prizes. The story begins with the cremation of Molly Lane, a restaurant critic, gorgeous wit and photographer, who has unexpectedly passed away following a speedy dehabilitating disease. The guests at her funeral include a few of her former lovers and her widowed husband, George, a rich publisher.

George is described a morose and possessive husband, and is generally held in disdain by the three former lovers attending the service. The first is Vernon Halliday, the editor of a struggling broadsheet newspaper called The Judge, who is given some indecent photographs revealing Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, another of Molly’s old lovers, posing in women’s clothes.

Vernon plans to publish the photos in order to increase circulation and ruin the career of rotten politician. The third of Molly’s former beaus is the composer Clive Linley, who has been commissioned to produce the song for the Millennium. Clive doesn’t want Vernon to abuse Molly’s trust by publishing her photos of Garmony, which is where the plot begins to gently boil.

As each chapter slips by your feelings for each character gradually changes into dislike and almost hate. Their ethics, their morals and their egos slowly fracture to reveal their true personalities of self-obsession through a number of different events that leave you breathless at their priorities. Circulation over friendship, music over saving a woman from rape, these are just two of the events that stun your senses during this excellent novel.

The novel is short affair, yet a great deal is filled with descriptions of Clive’s creative process and how he approaches his art. Clive asks during the story if he could be considered a genius and you feel as though he is at that point of the story, but that does change in a heartbeat. Obsession over his own creativity through the lengthy paragraphs show the fixation he has towards himself and his hike through the Lake District contains some writing that is worthy of the term ‘genius’.

There are subtle hints throughout the book about the title Amsterdam and how it will play its part in the inspired conclusion, naturally set in Holland’s capital. I would love to discuss the final chapter, but spoilers are generally frowned upon in reviews, so you can safely keep your forehead wrinkle free. It is safe to say that the book’s finale is worthy of the preceding story, so read as fast as you can to get to it.

Once you start Amsterdam you will be pulled through the pages by an invisible force until you hit the back cover with a thump. Ian McEwan deserved the Booker Prize in 1998 and I think during 2007 more of his work will be borrowed from the local library and you’ll see more reviews in Ovi.

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