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message 1: by Diane , Armchair Tour Guide (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane  | 12971 comments Start discussion here for Amsterdam by Ian McEwan.

message 2: by Diane , Armchair Tour Guide (last edited Jul 14, 2016 10:52PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane  | 12971 comments from Reading Group Guides

On a chilly February day, two old friends meet in the throng outside a crematorium to pay their last respects to Molly Lane. Both Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday had been Molly's lovers in the days before they reached their current eminence. Clive is Britain's most successful modern composer; Vernon is editor of the quality broadsheet The Judge. Gorgeous, feisty Molly had had other lovers, too, notably Julian Garmony, foreign secretary, a notorious right-winger tipped to be the next prime minister.

In the days that follow Molly's funeral, Clive and Vernon will make a pact with consequences neither has foreseen. Each will make a disastrous moral decision, their friendship will be tested to its limits, and Julian Garmony will be fighting for his political life.

In Amsterdam, a contemporary morality tale that is as profound as it is witty, we have Ian McEwan at his wisest and most wickedly disarming. And why Amsterdam? What happens there to Clive and Vernon is the most delicious climax of a novel brimming with surprises.

Discussion Questions
1. Talk about the tone of this novel. Is it ironic? Humorous? Menacing?

2. Think about Clive and Vernon and your feelings about each at different stages of the novel. Did those feelings change? If so, at what key points?

3. In a relatively short novel, the author devotes many pages to Clive's creative process. What do you think of the author's description of the process itself and of his decision to give it so much space?

4. At one early point in the novel, Vernon Halliday thinks this about himself, "[H]e was infinitely diluted; he was simply the sum of all the people who had listened to him, and when he was alone, he was nothing at all" (page 31). Discuss this prescient statement, in light of Vernon's fate.

5. Discuss the role of lucky (and unlucky) coincidence in the novel: Vernon's rise in his profession due to "Pategate" or the story in the Judge about euthanasia in Holland that leads Clive and Vernon there.

6. Talk about the author's skill in showing the workplace; the composer's process and studio; the newspaper editor's office.

7. This novel is funny--the Siamese twins story, the sub-editor who could not spell--talk about the role of humor in the novel.

8. At different points in the novel, both Clive and Vernon think that Clive has given more to their friendship than Vernon has. Talk about the form and course of their friendship. Can friendships ever be equal?

9. The author suggests that years and success narrow life. Is this true to your experience?

10. The author withholds information throughout the novel, offering bits that are only fully developed later (the photographs of Garmony, the importance of the "medical scandal in Holland"). Talk about the author's use of suspense.

11. How shaky is Clive's moral foundation? Should he be allowed to condemn his fellow artists who "assume the license of free artistic spirit" and renege on commitments, even as Clive ignores the plight of a woman he witnesses being attacked?

12. Vernon wants to crucify Garmony for the greater good of the republic. Is this ever a valid reason to go after a politician? Do you agree with Clive that Vernon is betraying Molly's trust? Or do you side with Vernon in his wish to stop a vile leader from gaining power?

13. Talk about the parallels between the fictional political scandal the author creates and the real one that has occupied Washington, D.C., for the past year. Is the author commenting on U.S. politics and media with this novel?

14. Is everybody in Amsterdam a hypocrite?

15. Clive thinks he's a genius. How do you define genius? Does Clive fit the definition?

16. Talk about Molly and the importance of her role in the novel. Are there other examples in literature of characters who carry great weight and importance even though they never appear?

17. At Allen Crags where Clive watches the woman and man struggle, the author writes, "Clive knew exactly what it was he had to do....He had decided at the very moment he was interrupted" (page 95). Was there any question in your mind at that point about what Clive's decision was? Were you correct?

18. What do you make of the author's choice to have Clive die happy, that is, unaware that he's been poisoned, but to have Vernon grasp in his last seconds "...where he really was and what must have been in his champagne and who these visitors were" (pages 187-188).

Katheryn Thompson (katherynt) My review of Amsterdam:

I found the differences in Clive and Vernon's final acts (Q18) fascinating. I wondered if their trance-like states, just before their deaths, could be seen as a literal representation of their states of unawareness throughout the book. They are both accused of being out of touch with the world, and the final climax only happens because they both live in their own private worlds, unaware even of each other's true thoughts and feelings. Perhaps then, Clive continues this blissful ignorance to his grave, seeming to give "the most modest of bows", feeling that he has left his mark on the world through his own musical genius, and thinking that he has done his duty in helping to bring the Lakeland rapist to justice, whereas Vernon, having lost his job and discovered the betrayal of his successor Dibben, finally realises the reality, but all too late. I don't know which is more tragic.

*This is my first Goodreads group read, so I hope that I've understood what I'm supposed to do!

Laurie | 632 comments I found Clive and Vernon both to be rather pathetic men. While Clive spends tons of time composing a symphony to be performed in honor of the new millennium, he contemplates whether or not he might be a genius. I question that many who are musical geniuses sit around and ponder whether they are. I'm not quite sure if a genius is aware of being a genius, I guess I just have this idea that they have better things to do than think about that. And deciding not to help the woman who was struggling with the man on Clive's hike was an act of supreme selfishness. The woman clearly was being physically bullied by a man in a place where no one else could help. But Clive thought his musical muse might desert him if he helped her, so he hid like a coward. Since Clive did not turn away because of danger to himself, I found him rather despicable. Maybe he couldn't have actually done anything, but he could have tried.

And Vernon didn't seem concerned with being the type of editor who tries to make his paper better; he merely wanted to increase the readership numbers. So he resorted to a type of tabloid journalism to do so. Vernon didn't want to ruin Garmony because he thought the cross-dressing pictures were wrong, he wanted to ruin the politician because the hates Garmony's political views. I am one of the last people who will defend politicians since I have a big bias against them, but I think they deserve to be left alone about private actions in their home that are legal. But Garmony attacked people for behavior that he didn't like, so he got attacked in the same way by Vernon's paper. So I didn't feel too bad for Garmony, but I also don't think it justifies what Vernon was trying to do.

Overall, I didn't care for the two main characters in this novel and the end was rather a shock. I completely agree with Katheryn that Clive and Vernon were out of touch with the world. I kept thinking as I was reading how selfish they both were. Vernon was apparently selfish for years since he lived with people for free on and off for years. And as I already stated, Clive was ready to sacrifice a woman to a rapist in order to maintain his musical muse. I don't know what Molly saw in these two men that made her be their friend for so many years, but I didn't see much that I thought was commendable.

Jennifer S. Alderson (jennifesalderson) | 138 comments This was my first go at an Ian McEwan book. I have to say I agree with Laura and Kimberly that I found the main characters so selfish and out of touch, I had difficulty getting into the story. I also rated it 3 stars, partly because of his reputation as a wonderful writer (I.e. I figured it was me, not his book!) . I read this a few years ago; would have liked to have seen this discussion first! (This is my first time with a group read, thanks Diana for organizing it.)

Katheryn Thompson (katherynt) This is only my second Ian McEwan book, but I really love his style of writing and the way in which he explores morality and mortality, almost to the point where it becomes uncomfortable. There's something in his detached style and equally detached characters which I find utterly compelling. To quote Fitzgerald, "I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled".
I'm sorry that you didn't really enjoy it, Jennifer, but I can definitely see why.

Jennifer S. Alderson (jennifesalderson) | 138 comments Katheryn wrote: "This is only my second Ian McEwan book, but I really love his style of writing and the way in which he explores morality and mortality, almost to the point where it becomes uncomfortable. There's s..."
No worries, it can happen! I really liked hearing about why you like his writing. He definitely has a detached style. I tend not to like books that make me uncomfortable, however it's a compliment to the writer that he made me feel something when I read it. Too many books don't grab my attention at all. And I did finish Amsterdam, so that says something about his abilities!

Sarah I found both of the characters' morals to be absolutely appalling and I had kind of a sick stomach throughout the book. I did really love the end, though. It was so appropriate to their characters.

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