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Winner of this year’s Booker Prize, McEwan’s latest (Black Dogs, 1992; Enduring Love, 1998) is a smartly written tale that devolves slowly into tricks and soapy vapors. When she dies of a sudden, rapidly degenerative illness, London glamour photographer Molly Lane is married to rich British publisher George Lane, although numerous erstwhile lovers still live and stir in the controversial Molly’s wake. These high- visibility figures include internationally famed composer Clive Linley, racing now to complete his overdue magnum opus, a new symphony for the millennium; his close friend Vernon Halliday, the liberal, ambitious, idealistic editor of a London newspaper that’s struggling hard to keep its readership; and right-winger Thatcherite Julian Garmony, now Britain’s foreign secretary. The daily lives of these three high-profilers—though mostly of Clive and Vernon, who receive the main focus—are nothing if not interesting in the capable hands of McEwan, who shows himself more than plentifully knowledgeable in the details of journalism and music, describing with a Masterpiece Theater color and exactness the torments of composition and the rigors of keeping a big newspaper in business. The machinery of plot gradually takes over, though, when George finds, in Molly’s left-behind things, three wildly incriminating sex-photos of the foreign secretary—and makes them available to Vernon Halliday, for whom the idea of bringing down the conservative Garmony (who’s considering a run for PM) by publishing the pictures is irresistible. This plan of massive public humiliation, however, offends Clive Linley, who thinks of it as a deep betrayal of the dead Molly, and bitterness rises like a serpent in the Clive-Vernon friendship, hardly put to rest when Vernon learns of something morally dubious that Clive’s just done—and that could, in fact, be made a nifty tool of revenge. And so things progress via trick, counter-trick, and backfire, in a novelistic try for a big ending that just gets littler instead. Middle-brow fiction British style, strong on the surface, vapid at the center.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-49423-8
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1998


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