1. Talk about the tone of this novel. Is it ironic? Humorous?
2. Think about Clive and Vernon and your feelings about each at
different stages of the novel. Did those feelings change? If so, at
what key points?
3. In a relatively short novel, the author devotes many pages to
Clive''s creative process. What do you think of the author''s
description of the process itself and of his decision to give it so
4. At one early point in the novel, Vernon Halliday thinks this
about himself, "[H]e was infinitely diluted; he was simply the sum
of all the people who had listened to him, and when he was alone,
he was nothing at all." Discuss this prescient statement, in light
of Vernon''s fate.
5. Discuss the role of lucky (and unlucky) coincidence in the
novel: Vernon''s rise in his profession due to "Pategate" or the
story in the Judge about euthanasia in Holland that leads Clive and
6. Talk about the author''s skill in showing the workplace; the
composer''s process and studio; the newspaper editor''s office.
7. This novel is funny - the Siamese twins story, the sub-editor
who could not spell - talk about the role of humor in the
8. At different points in the novel, both Clive and Vernon think
that Clive has given more to their friendship than Vernon has. Talk
about the form and course of their friendship. Can friendships ever
9. The author suggests that years and success narrow life. Is
this true to your experience?
10. The author withholds information throughout the novel,
offering bits that are only fully developed later (the photographs
of Garmony, the importance of the "medical scandal in Holland").
Talk about the author''s use of suspense.
11. How shaky is Clive''s moral foundation? Should he be allowed
to condemn his fellow artists who "assume the license of free
artistic spirit" and renege on commitments, even as Clive ignores
the plight of a woman he witnesses being attacked?
12. Vernon wants to crucify Garmony for the greater good of the
republic. Is this ever a valid reason to go after a politician? Do
you agree with Clive that Vernon is betraying Molly''s trust? Or do
you side with Vernon in his wish to stop a vile leader from gaining
13. Talk about the parallels between the fictional political
scandal the author creates and the real one that has occupied
Washington, D.C., for the past year. Is the author commenting on
U.S. politics and media with this novel?
14. Is everybody in Amsterdam a hypocrite?
15. Clive thinks he''s a genius. How do you define genius? Does
Clive fit the definition?
16. Talk about Molly and the importance of her role in the
novel. Are there other examples in literature of characters who
carry great weight and importance even though they never
17. At Allen Crags where Clive watches the woman and man
struggle, the author writes, "Clive knew exactly what it was he had
to do....He had decided at the very moment he was interrupted." Was
there any question in your mind at that point about what Clive''s
decision was? Were you correct?
18. What do you make of the author''s choice to have Clive die
happy, that is, unaware that he''s been poisoned, but to have
Vernon grasp in his last seconds "...where he really was and what
must have been in his champagne and who these visitors were."