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Last Updated September 5, 2023.


One of the themes of Amsterdam is hypocrisy. All three of the former lovers who attend Molly Lane's funeral at the beginning of the book turn out to be hypocrites. Julian Garmony is a right-wing politician who publicly opposes alternative lifestyles, yet he engages in cross dressing. Vernon Halliday claims to want to publish the photos of Julian as a cross dresser to prevent the conservative Julian from advancing politically, but he also craves professional recognition and has a long history of ruining people's careers. Clive Linley, a composer, is opposed to Julian's decision, as Clive considers it self-serving; however, Clive also witnesses an attack while he is in the Lake District that he does not bother reporting to the police because he is too busy trying to write a symphony. Therefore, while each man criticizes or admonishes others for hypocrisy, each is also guilty of committing a wrong. McEwan implies that each person is touched by guilt and that no one is wholly innocent. To pretend otherwise is to be guilty of hypocrisy.


At the beginning of the novel, Clive and Vernon are saddened by Molly's demise. She was once a vital woman who has been felled by disease. They mourn her death and the fact that disease caused her to degenerate before dying. Over time, each man is afraid that he, too, is failing. Clive wonders if he is walking in a strange way until he finds gum at the bottom of his shoe, and Vernon believes the right side of his brain has been affected and is failing. Clive wants to finish his symphony as a way to achieve a kind of immortality, but he does not do so. Both men feel their mortality, and, in the end, they both die.


This novel is full of betrayal. Vernon betrays Julian by publishing the photos of Julian as a cross dresser, and later Vernon also betrays Clive by telling the police that Clive did not report the attack that he had witnessed in the Lake District. In the end, Clive and Vernon arrange for the other's murder, and George, Molly's husband, thinks about calling Vernon's widow. The relationships are marked by continual betrayals, suggesting that friendship is not constant but is subject to bitterness and deception.

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