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0186 | Amsterdam – Ian McEwan


Context: A reclining chair, a lamp and a cushion on a cloudy Saturday morning.

I’ve read a couple of other McEwan’s which always captivated me until about halfway through. Admittedly, Amsterdam was shorter than either Enduring Love or the much longer Atonement and so, if it was going to follow suit, it would have to be somewhere in the first fifty pages. Well it didn’t. For once, McEwan held me past the halfway point. But, again, he just can’t seem to finish well.

Two professional friends in very different lines of work. One’s a newspaper editor, the other’s a composer. A mutual friend’s death brings to light something that joins the two men together and tests not only their friendship but their cunning and, ultimately, their very lives.

I like McEwan’s sparse style. Like Coetzee, Toibin and the grandfather of them all, Hemingway, he can conjure up a whole host of images with just a few words. I immediately felt involved in both of the main characters.

The novel seemed to be about the frailty of the body at an early stage. I wasn’t sure where it was going. I had some ideas and they were all wrong until the very end. But once I had grasped what was going on at the end, it was all a bit contrived I thought.

It’s as if McEwan has an impatience in his writing. The beginnings of Love and Atonement are brilliant. Enduring Love has one of the best opening chapters of any contemporary novel you can read. But they all tail off.

The ending to Amsterdam is very quick and I couldn’t actually see how it was plausible. Why would Vernon be there after what has happened to him professionally? Beats me. If I could see it coming, why can’t Clive?

So, again, McEwan’s novels leave me half satisfied. I’m rating this lower than either of the others I’ve read. Although it finishes better, it doesn’t have the depth that the other two later novels have.

Two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel with their backs to the February chill.

When it comes to being reasonable, [the Dutch] rather go over the top.

He smiled, and as he reaised his hand to touch the doorbell, his mind was already settling luxuriously on the fascinating matter of the guest list.

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2 comments… add one
  • newshound 15 July, 2009, 7:14 pm

    This is just what I wanted. McEwan is really the master of prose. His insight is unbeatable.

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