Books: The Moral Low Ground

A prizewinning novel about love and betrayal

The persistent and perversely entertaining theme in Ian McEwan's fiction has been the anguish of conflicting moral obligations. For example, should a composer, at the moment he begins to sense how he can complete the symphony that will define his career, abandon his concentration to intervene on behalf of a woman who may be in danger of being raped?

That is one of the questions that animates McEwan's eighth novel, Amsterdam (Doubleday; 193 pages; $21), the 1998 winner of Britain's prestigious Booker Prize. The composer in question is Clive Linley. He and his old friend Vernon Halliday, a newspaper editor,...

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