12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Ian McEwan is, without a doubt, one of the greatest writers of dark fiction today. But his novella "Amsterdam" is something of a misfire, reading more like the sluggishly-filled-out outline for a novel rather than a novel itself. While it has the seeds of genius, his usual introspection and depth is both missing and sorely missed.
Molly Lane is dead, her mind and body wrecked by an unspecified disease. Now her assorted lovers and friends reunite one last time, including Molly's ex-boyfriends Clive and Vernon, respectively a prominent composer and a not-so-respected newspaper editor. Because of Molly, they are friends -- and they enter into a pact because of her death.
But things go awry when Vernon gets his hands on photos of the Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, cross-dressing and photographed by Molly. Eager to bring down Garmony and bring up his readership, Vernon wants to publish the photos in his newspaper; Clive is disgusted by this, yet he allows a rapist and murderer to go free for the sake of his musical inspiration. Which man is worse?
"Amsterdam" is like a city in winter: pretty at a distance but rather empty and cold when you walk through it. In theory it has all the elements needed for a great novel, but it feels vaguely unfinished, as if McEwan was expanding an outline into a full-fledged novel but somehow never finished the job.
The characters are lacking in the complexity found in most of McEwan's other books, where many dimensions can be found. Clive is almost impossible to connect with; Vernon is more understandable, given his waning career. But if these characters aren't really connectable, McEwan uses them to make us look at morality, hypocrisy, and where our bad intentions can lead us.
Aside from the characters, the prose is simple and straightforward: it describes what the characters do, but very little of what they think. As a result, some of the actions -- such as Clive watching a woman being attacked -- seem almost random. But in places, such as Mrs. Garmony's public speech about her husband and Vernon, his brilliance shines forth, and the entire ending is lit up by the irony.
So while an acceptable novel by most standards, it's perhaps the least of McEwan's works thus far. Has its moments of pure brilliance, but in large patches, it's dreary and empty.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 May 2014
It's difficult to take this book seriously. It reads like a farce about three middle-aged former lovers of a recently deceased woman who have an ambiguous relationship among themselves and are united in hatred of her husband who, in turn, also hates them.
The characters are the typical London metropolitan types people like McEwan write about - a government minister, composer, journalist, publisher - with not a hint of reality about them.
After a lot of toing and froing around London, with a side trip to the Lake District where the composer witnesses what might be a rape but ignores it, the book ends in a hotel in Amsterdam where a poisoned glass of champagne takes center stage and the reader waits to see which of the characters will take it.
I half expected someone's trousers to fall down at one point just to keep the story going. Mercifully they did not and the whole thing is wrapped shortly and efficiently.
Only to be read if there is absolutely nothing else around.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2015
I received this book free for review from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review. Despite the coolness of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.
The nutshell view on this book is that it is essentially the story of a friendship torn asunder. The narrative is fairly complex and the writing exceptionally literary but it does take a really long time to get to its ‘hook.’ Even when it does so, the hook isn’t terribly strong and takes a fair amount of willpower to carry forward with.
So on the positive side, the book is exceptionally erudite and paints a fine and detailed picture of its protagonists. They are very real and vividly portrayed and one could imagine knowing them in real life. Their intercourse is fairly realistic and they carry on like old friends tend to.
To the negative, the book takes a long time to get find its way to something interesting. The first full third of this short novel sets the stage and I found my mind wandering terribly and I wondered what exactly why I was bothering. Once I found the hook the a-ha moment was brief and only mildly impactful.
In summary, I can’t really find any group of readers to whom I would recommend this book. It wallows in the shallows of mediocrity and is not one that will come to mind unbidden over the coming months. In fact, utterly forgettable I’m afraid.
PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2012
I really can't understand why this novel won the Booker Prize.
It's trying to be typical Hardy-esque McEwan, in that one event changes everyone's lives - but the trouble is, the lives in question aren't particularly interesting. Drama is so desperately sought-after that it's impossible for any to be created.
The novel revolves around two characters, a journalist and a composer, joined by an inescapable past - apparently. They make an agreement at a funeral which eventually leads to a 'twist', although to be honest it's more like a loose tug with a lot of build-up.
McEwan's mixture of 'big' ideas with understated characters and plotlines doesn't really work here. There are a few good moments in the book but hardly good enough to constitute a Booker Prize.
on 20 March 2014
The link between all the characters is Molly, yet this story starts with her funeral. Her ghostly presence is forever present through the memories of the characters. Vernon Halliday is the editor of The Judge, Clive Linley the famous composer, Julian Garmony the Foreign Secretary and George the grieving husband. They all have intimate knowledge of her, which makes their meeting uncomfortable and sets up a rivalry. When Clive is introduced to Garmony he reminds him of his faux pas as an undergraduate. Garmony's sinister response, is to grab Clive by the lapels and whisper that Molly suggested he was inadequate in bed. Clive is offended and denies this, to which Garmony responds they can always discuss it infront of the press.
When George offers Vernon sensational photo's taken by Molly of Garmony, he jumps at the chance to publish them. He sees this not only as a chance to increase the circulation of the paper and enhance his reputation, but to destroy the career of one of Molly's lovers.
Vernon and Clive are close friends, but they disagree over the publication of the photo's, with Vernon's jealousy and determination to destroy Garmony's reputation clouding his judgement. Clive goes to the country for inspiration to finish his symphony, but is disrupted by an quarrelling couple. Reconciliation with Vernon is short lived when Clive explains about the argument and Vernon informs him he is a witness to a crime and must go the police. Clive insists his work must come first and Vernon threatens to notify the police.
When the pictures are due to be published, Garmonys wife stands by him and Vernon's reputation is ruined. Out of spite he notifies the police of what Clive witnessed and Clive has to go and help with identification. This marks the low point in their relationship and following a pact they had made due to the way Molly died, they travel together to Amsterdam where the story concludes.
There is nothing fast paced about this novel. It walks leisurely through the lives of the characters, inter weaving events and motives, deceptively into a dramatic and tragic storyline. These people are educated, respectable, holding positions of authority and responsibility, yet they are still subject to the emotions of ambition, jealousy, deceit and revenge. In the end, George can put Molly's memory, and that of her lovers, to bed and start again.
Ian McEwan's novel "Amsterdam" begins with the death of a married woman, Molly Lane, who has had many lovers. Among her lovers are Clive Linely, a successful British composer, Vernon Halliday, the editor of a formerly highbrow but failing paper called The Judge, and Julian Garamony, a foreign secretary with even higher political aspirations. The story revolves around the relationships of Linely, Halliday, and Garamony, and their ties to Molly.
Each of the three men is involved in something of a moral crisis. Linely is working on a symphony he hopes will prove his masterpiece when he has to decide whether to interfere in what may be a rape. Halliday has to decide whether to compromise his failing paper by publishing sexually explicit and compromising pictures of Garamony that Molly had taken. Linely and Halliday sign a euthanasia pact and then quarrel over the moral choices each man must face.
The book is slender, elegant, and, alas, superficial. It is pleasant to read but lacks depth. The most interesting part of the book for me is the interest the author shows in music through the composer in the book, Linely. For me, music became the focus of attention in the book, even though Linely is basically arrogant and mediocre and only one of three or four characters in the tangled plot of the book.
At the outset of the novel, Linely is writing a commissioned symphony to celebrate the millennium but is experiencing difficulty in finishing the work and in finding an appropriately lyrical theme to end the last movement. He wants a theme that will capture both the horrors of the 20th Century and mankind's hopes and aspirations for the future -- shades of the Beethoven Ninth in more ways than one. Also like Beethoven, Linely derives inspiration from nature. To find an environment enabling him to complete his symphony, Linely takes a break to visit a wild, lonely place where he witnesses an apparent rape. Linely fancies himself a genius -- which he is not -- and displays something of an imitation of Beethoven's attitude and work habits -- such as the trip to nature. Of course this is hardly the first time a musician has defined himself in reference to Beethoven.
Other works of Linely are mentioned in the course of the novel as are other composers. Linely has set a series of poems called "rage" by an American beat named Hart Pullman. (Hart has also slept with Molly in his younger days.) He has written a piece which was performed only once called "Symphonic Dervishes for Virtuoso Strings." Linely has also written a book called "Reading Beauty" which claims that blues, rock, jazz, and folk have been the truly innovative music of the 20th Century.
One critic dubs Linely the "thinking man's Gorecki" and then recants to call Gorecki the "thinking man's Linely." Gorecki is a mid-20th century composer whose third symphony ("Lamentations") has won deserved fame. There are references to English composers such as Britten, Williams and Purcell. At one point, when his own symphony is about to be trashed, Linely expresses disdain for concertgoers attending a program of Schubert. "Hadn't the world heard enough from syphilitic Schubert?" Linely asks.
I was taken with the discussion of music in the book much more than with the plot and with the egoism, arrogance, and lust that the characters convey. The author has many interesting things to say about music even though they are basically said in passing. Altogether, this is an entertaining book but little more. For me the music is the tail that wags the dog.
on 27 March 2012
This novel is about a fatal conflict between four British men who were close, at different times, with Molly, columnist of a British paper. Her funeral kick-starts the book. The quartet consists of her husband David (publisher of dubious historical bestsellers), Clive (a rich, conservative composer), Vernon (editor of a newspaper in decline) and Julian, the British Foreign Secretary.
They don’t know each other well: Vernon and Clive are old friends; Vernon knows David is a 1.5% owner of the paper he runs and hates everything Julian stands for politically. Julian is married with children, but let Molly take pictures of himself in woman's clothes. After her death, David plans revenge...
"Amsterdam" is dedicated to the Dutch couple who published his first book in Dutch, before his UK debut. The title also stands for something else: Amsterdam is where euthanasia is purported to be practiced as part of the NL healthcare system. With a medical doctor's referral and a hefty fee, it puts the elderly and other hopeless individuals out of their misery. Utter nonsense of course, but McEwan pursues the idea to a successful climax.
He describes professionals brilliantly and is sometimes (deliberately) unethical. His bestseller "Solar" sadly turned into comedy, but his masterpiece "Saturday" not. In "Amsterdam" he is unethical again. The pressures on a composer missing two deadlines on an editor with a daily deadline, running from meeting to meeting, are beautifully described. Well-plotted and -written, short novel about the vagaries of the press and politics and being overachievers in London.
28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 2002
Ian McEwan is Britain's leading literary artist, so anything he publishes should be greeted with enthusiasm. However, this is a disappointment. This is a story of two men: one is a composer, Clive Linley, who is busy writing a symphony; and the other is a newspaper editor, Vernon Halliday, who publishes a series of photos in order to ruin a right-wing politician's career. A mutual lover, Molly Lane, who has since died, took the pictures. To publish them, Linley believes, would be to besmirch the memory of Molly Lane, whom they both loved. They fall out and their friendship sours; eventually, after a series of misunderstandings, themselves plot contrivances, turning to hatred. I won't give away the ending. I will only say that it is ridiculous. McEwan should read more Ian Banks to see how to develop clever but plausible twists to his endings. Failing that, just read a couple of Agatha Christies.
There is a lot that is good in this novel. The characterisation of the two main protagonists is excellent, and the description of the creative process of a composer is marvellous, but this does not save the book. The story fails totally to engage.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
I bought Amsterdam at an airport bookshop for less than perfect literary reasons - price, pockability and not being The Da Vinci Code. I finished it in a day and a half, which isn't like me and is probably, in part, a testament to the lucidity of McEwan's prose. The first fifty or so pages make an intriguing set-up, and I rather enjoyed his description of Clive's creative process, so I was looking forward to finding out about the 'disastrous moral decision' each man was about to make.
And after that, as others here have said, it all goes horribly, predictably, unconvincingly, pointlessly wrong. The conclusion is less 'blow to the gut' than 'I can see how this will end and I've still got 100 pages (out of 180) to go'. I've enjoyed McEwan before and had high hopes of this but it really isn't worth even the short time it takes to read it.
on 14 October 2005
Or maybe I should say: Two "friends" helping each other. Vernon Halliday and Clive Linley are old buddies. After the funeral of a mutual friend, Molly Lane, who died after a debilitating disease, they promise each other to help the other commit euthanasia if they ever become incapacitated. And then their friendship starts to unravel: Vernon is the editor-in-chief of a good newspaper who, pressured by the ever decreasing sales of the last year, decides to publish pictures of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in a compromising situation. Clive thinks this is very unethical. On the other hand there is Clive, a composer, who during a hiking trip in the Lake District, witnesses a crime, but refuses to go to the police. Vernon considers this unethical. In the end the two "friends" meet in Amsterdam. Apparently to become friends again, but they both have a surprise for the other...
Quite and entertaining read, but I am not sure that this is actually the level of a Booker Prize winner. Atonement by Ian McEwan was a much more complicated novel with more levels in it.