Molly Lane was amorously involved with Clive Linley, a prominent musician, Vernon Halliday, the chief editor of a dying newspaper, and Julian Garmony, an influential politician at various points in her life. Molly was however married to George Lane, a wealthy businessman. The novel begins at the funeral of Molly, who has died of a sudden debilitating disease. Molly's ex lovers have assembled at her funeral to pay their last respects. Clive and Vernon are very old friends and share a common dislike for Garmony and George. George on the other hand is a shrewd businessman who does not care for any of the other three and maintains only the most superficial acquaintance with them. The story progresses to show how the fate of these four men become inextricably linked up when George discovers some very personal photographs of Garmony. He wants to publish these photographs for personal gain and manipulates Vernon to this end. Clive does not support Vernon in this. The novel goes on to depict the fine workings of politics, and sentiment that bring about the surprising climax of the novel.
The novel canvases some eternal traits of human society, and upholds the vulnerability of the socially affluent. Politics, power play, vengeance and self perpetuation are universal human characteristics and are the predominant themes of the novel. Sample this, 'Despite his awareness of its imperfections, Clive wanted the great conductor to bless his symphony with a lofty compliment and angled his question accordingly: Do you think think the whole piece if hanging together well? Structurally, I mean?' or ' Vernon was wondering whether he might just bring himself to let Frank go. What was he doing wearing an earring?'
From the way this novel has been written, it could very well have been a suspense thriller or a work of dramatic cinema. The language is terse and tense. The tension builds up to a very unexpected climax. At the same time, Ian McEwan effectively manipulates the language of the novel each time he speaks for one of his characters. The exuberant soliloquy of the musician Clive is very different from the nervous calculations of the editor Vernon, which is again different from the troubled musings of the politician Garmony.
I did feel the end was a tad bit too dramatic, may be, even verging on the melodramatic. But overall, the book is a nice read and a good reflection of our social times. Fellow readers who are working in the corporate world, I think, would agree with me.
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