Booker Prize: McEwan wins with satire on morals

Booker Prize: Fifth disappointment for Bainbridge as 'Amsterdam' surprises the critics in 30th anniversary year

IAN McEWAN last night surprised the critics, but not the bookies, when his eighth novel, Amsterdam, won the pounds 20,000 Booker Prize for fiction in its 30th anniversary year. Douglas Hurd, the former foreign secretary, chaired the panel of judges who chose a book that involves the curious sexual behaviour of a fictional foreign secretary. Lord Hurd praised Amsterdam as "a sardonic but wise examination of the morals and culture of our times".

McEwan's victory, aftershortlistings in 1981 and 1992, meant a fifth disappointment for Beryl Bainbridge. Her novel Master Georgie, which follows a motley group of characters from Liverpool to the Crimean War, had been tipped as the book that would finally break her Booker duck.

After his triumph, McEwan paid tribute to Bainbridge's generosity. "She gave me a great hug, and she has a great heart. I hope I would have given her a great hug too."

Asked about Bainbridge's many near misses, Martyn Goff, Booker Prize administrator, stressed that the judges had "the constant feeling" that they must not be influenced one way or another by her past record.

Amsterdam, a short, satirical novel, follows a quartet of much darker and more experimental works by McEwan. It traces the consequences of a pact made by three Establishment figures at the funeral of a former lover of them all.

Interviewing McEwan for The Independent, Robert Hanks described the book as "a decisive break with the past". McEwan himself then called its writing "a real holiday". After his victory the writer took a rather different line. He emphasised that "I was very seriously engaged by this book. Do not be deceived by its length."

Amsterdam's principal characters are a composer, a politician and the editor of a broadsheet newspaper. Since McEwan attended editorial conferences at The Observer, commentators have suggested that the fictional editor, Vernon Halliday, resembles the ousted Observer editor Will Hutton. McEwan denied this, stating that his fictional paper The Judge "is based on every broadsheet that I have ever read".

Amsterdam is published by Cape, and Beryl Bainbridge's Master Georgie by Duckworth. The other shortlisted titles were England, England by Julian Barnes (Kate); The Industry of Souls by Martin Booth (Dewi Lewis); Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe (Picador); and The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (Flamingo).

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