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"Amsterdam"

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Winner of Britain's 1998 Booker Prize for fiction, Ian McEwan's Amsterdam (Doubleday/Nan A. Talese; $21) is at once far-reaching and tightly self-contained, a fin de siècle phantasmagoria -- incorporating euthanasia, political scandal, media ethics, midlife crisis, and other nineties-appropriate issues -- that wraps up as neatly as a weekly sitcom. The characters -- a free-spirited classical composer, an on-the-ropes editor, a rich publisher, and a conservative foreign secretary ripe for a fall -- are linked by the death of the lover they share and the subsequent discovery of potentially damaging photographs. Everyone's a sinner, but when comeuppance is served, it's too harsh and implausible, turning McEwan's otherwise finely crafted novel into a morality tale with a distorted moral.


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