MURDER. A POSSESSIVE husband. Betrayal. Euthanasia pacts. A cross-dressing Foreign Secretary. A composer, a newspaper editor, and a dead lover. These are the components of a friendship gone awry, and also the central plot of British novelist Ian McEwan's Amsterdam.
Winner of this year's Booker Prize, Amsterdam is the story of two friends: classical composer Clive Linley and newspaper editor Vernon Halliday. At the beginning of this slim novel, Linley and Halliday attend the funeral of Molly Lane, the darling of London's social and political elite. Aside from the lack of refreshments, McEwan writes, "one might have been at one more gallery opening, one more media launch." Discussing Molly's slow disintegration and subsequent death, Linley and Halliday confront their own ineluctable days of decrepitude. Convinced that Molly would have preferred a quick, dignified end, the two make an agreement to euthanize the other when the time comes--an arrangement they believe will honor their friendship, love, and trust.
Such cool-blooded amity, however, does not last long, and conflict soon arrives in the form of a cross-dressing Foreign Secretary, Julian Garmony. Garmony is vying for the title of Prime Minister of England, but his aspirations are compromised by some incriminating photos Halliday acquires from Molly. Though Linley opposes their release, Halliday publishes them anyway. And this spells the beginning of the end for their friendship, and the first steps on the path to murder.
McEwan, who is best known for The Comfort of Strangers, hints at the psychology of the lead characters and the reasons their friendship would dissolve into a relationship of pure malice--but before long McEwan's own relationship with believability becomes strained. Ultimately, we are left to marvel at the author's gift for irony. How ironic that a friendship should turn to loathing! How ironic that two intolerant characters should meet their fate in Amsterdam, a city known for its tolerance! How ironic that the inevitable is so apparent by the third chapter!
Ian McEwan reads at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 27 at Borders Book Shop Uptown; (612) 825-0336.