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A Satirical Tale of Morality and Intrigue

May 12, 1999|ROCHELLE O'GORMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Wickedly humorous and morally questionable, British author Ian McEwan was awarded the United Kingdom's 1998 Booker Prize for his outrageously droll novel "Amsterdam." Inventive and intriguing, this fin-de-siecle fiction promises to intrigue, even if it does drive the listener slightly mad. (Publishing Mills; unabridged fiction; four cassettes; 4 hours and 7 minutes; $24.95; read by Maxwell Caulfield.)

This is a morality tale about people who lack morality. The plot is set in motion when vivacious Molly Lane dies of an unspecified degenerative disease. The men who love her sadly mourn the married magazine photographer with a colorful past. These men include George, her wealthy and conservative husband, and two former lovers--composer Clive Linley and editor Vernon Halliday. Tossed into the mix is Thatcherite Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, whose political life is put into jeopardy when Molly's men discover a deliciously scandalous secret.

Though McEwan writes smartly and daringly, his vicious and witty characters could have done with more detail. His writing is filled with scenarios that are astute and cynical. He writes with economy about personal desires and civic responsibilities. But his style does not serve all of his characters equally well. Molly remains appropriately mysterious, but we clamor for more of the self-serving Vernon and the controlling George.

A most welcome surprise is British reader Maxwell Caulfield. Not an actor known for his range, he proves to be a nimble-voiced narrator with wonderful diction. He occasionally rushes a little but has a commanding attitude and undeniable presence. He creates different voices for each character and presents them consistently.

There is a great deal of humor in this audio, and Caulfield does not miss a beat. Sarcasm and irony are dished out with that delightful restraint for which the English are so well known. One can only hope audio book publishers will employ him more often.

Rochelle O'Gorman reviews audio books every other week. Next week: Margo Kaufman on mystery books.

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