Excerpt from Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Ian McEwan

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    Dec 1998, 193 pages
    Nov 1999, 193 pages

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Vernon was laughing as he steered his friend away from the Garden of Remembrance. "Easily said. I can just see you writing exercise yard anthems for the cons, like what's-her-name, the suffragette."

"Ethel Smyth. I'd do a damn better job than she did."

The friends of Molly who made up the funeral gathering would have preferred not to be at a crematorium, but George had made it clear there was to be no memorial service. He didn't want to hear these three former lovers publicly comparing notes from the pulpits of St. Martin's or St. James's, or exchanging glances while he made his own speech. As Clive and Vernon approached they heard the familiar gabble of a cocktail party. No champagne trays, no restaurant walls to throw back the sound, but otherwise one might have been at one more gallery opening, one more media launch. So many faces Clive had never seen by daylight, and looking terrible, like cadavers jerked upright to welcome the newly dead. Invigorated by this jolt of misanthropy, he moved sleekly through the din, ignored his name when it was called, withdrew his elbow when it was plucked, and kept on going toward where George stood talking to two women and a shriveled old fellow with a fedora and cane.

"It's too cold, we have to go," Clive heard a voice cry out, but for the moment no one could escape the centripetal power of a social event. He had already lost Vernon, who had been pulled away by the owner of a television channel.

At last Clive was gripping George's hand in a reasonable display of sincerity. "It was a wonderful service."

"It was very kind of you to come."

Her death had ennobled him. The quiet gravity really wasn't his style at all, which had always been both needy and dour; anxious to be liked, but incapable of taking friendliness for granted. A burden of the hugely rich.

"And do excuse me," he added, "these are the Finch sisters, Vera and Mini, who knew Molly from her Boston days. Clive Linley."

They shook hands.

"You're the composer?" Vera or Mini asked.

"That's right."

"It's a great honor, Mr. Linley. My eleven-year-old granddaughter studied your sonatina for her final exam in violin and really loved it."

"That's very nice to know."

The thought of children playing his music made him feel faintly depressed.

"And this," George said, "also from the States, is Hart Pullman."

"Hart Pullman. At last. Do you remember I set your Rage poems for jazz orchestra?"

Pullman was the Beat poet, the last survivor of the Kerouac generation. He was a withered little lizard of a man who was having trouble twisting his neck to look up at Clive. "These days I don't remember a thing, not a fucking thing," he said pleasantly in a high-pitched, chirpy voice. "But if you said you did it, you did it."

"You remember Molly, though," Clive said.

"Who?" Pullman kept a straight face for two seconds, then cackled and clutched at Clive's forearm with slender white fingers. "Oh sure," he said in his Bugs Bunny voice. "Molly and me go way back to '65 in the East Village. I remember Molly. Oh boy!"

Clive concealed his disquiet as he did the sums. She would have turned sixteen in the June of that year. Why had she never mentioned it? He probed neutrally.

"She came out for the summer, I suppose."

"Uh-uh. She came to my Twelfth Night party. What a girl, eh, George?"

Statutory rape, then. Three years before him. She never told him about Hart Pullman. And didn't she come to the premier of Rage? Didn't she come to the restaurant afterward? He couldn't remember. Not a fucking thing.

George had turned his back to talk to the American sisters. Deciding there was nothing to lose, Clive cupped his hand about his mouth and leaned down to speak in Pullman's ear.

Reproduced from Amsterdam : A Novel, by Ian McEwan. © 1997 by Ian McEwan, used by permission of the publishers : Doubleday.

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