Winner, 1998 Man Booker Prize
I’m not a huge fan of McEwan’s so I had put off reading this book until my sister read it and enjoyed it. I have a commitment to reading all the Booker Prize winners and this was short so that also made it easier to start it.
I was surprised to find it much easier to read than Atonement, where I really bogged down in the initial chapters. It’s a darkly comic novel about four men who’ve all been lovers or married to Molly Lane, who is recently deceased. The book starts out with her funeral, the interactions of the four men during it, and their thoughts on how much they all appreciated Molly.
We then go on to their professional lives. Clive is a composer, Vernon a newspaper editor, George (the husband) is on the board of that same paper, and Garmony is the Foreign Secretary. All of these men and their vocations intersect throughout the story. It was hilarious to hear how the men see and think about themselves. McEwan pokes fun of all these men and their professions, and even of fellow writers.
“He had a number of friends who played the genius card when it suited, failing to show up for this or that in the belief that whatever local upset it caused, it could only increase respect for the compelling nature of their high calling. These types–novelists were by far the worst–managed to convince friends and families that not only their working hours but every nap and stroll, every fit of silence, depression, or drunkenness, bore the exculpatory ticket of high intent. A mask for mediocrity, was Clive’s view. He didn’t doubt that the calling was high, but bad behavior was not a part of it. Perhaps every century there was an exception or two to be made. Beethoven, yes; Dylan Thomas, most certainly not.”
I was enjoying the book for the most part when suddenly I saw what was coming at the end, and thought, “It’s not really going to go there, is it?” It did go there. I put off reading the last 50 or so pages because I knew I wouldn’t like the ending. Although, the sequences “in the haze of confusion” were quite funny. As was the modern duel.
I don’t know. I guess I didn’t like how Atonement began but appreciated how it ended, and with Amsterdam it was just the opposite. I liked the beginning and not the ending, though it did have its humor. I didn’t like On Chesil Beach at all. Not sure I’ll read another McEwan novel, but I was happy to check this one off my list.
1998, 193 pp.