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.
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.
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.
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 2 January 2014
There were times I was engaged in this, but what I like in McEwan is the way his stories fit together at the end. With Sweet Tooth and Atonement, there was something 'complete' about the book by the end. Not so, for me, with Amsterdam. The ending was to a degree predictable, and left me thinking: so what?
on 18 February 2006
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 23 July 2005
When I finished this book, I was left in shock. I was absolutely speechless, dumbstruck. "Is that it?" I thought. "This won the Booker Prize?" It made no sense. I'd never disliked a Booker Prize winner before. How could this one be so awful?
Then I read some of the reviews on Amazon and realised I was by no means alone. I actually enjoyed wooblywoobly's review (below) more than I enjoyed the book. It's not that Amsterdam is unreadable. McEwan's prose is light and accessible. But this novel is completely and utterly wrecked by it's horribly contrived plot. And I mean *wrecked*. It is shallow, unconvincing and feels rushed - ironically just like the music composed by the character Clive.
We're supposed to believe that these two typical middle class men, Clive and Vernon (a composer and a newspaper editor), could enter into a euthanasia pact and then attempt follow it through without any good reason to do so. They fall out and suddenly murder is on the cards. Does this sound like any typical middle class men you know? I do hope not. It is the most contrived story I have ever read.
This plot might have held together if McEwan had managed to include some kind of significant character development in the novel. But it's not there. The characters don't visibly descend into madness. They are completely soulless and their story is told with dry, suspenseless narration throughout.
Avoid this book!
on 2 October 2001
Usually I look to the Booker Prize if I want to discover new novel by authors I do not automatically read - so I picked up "Amsterdam". What a huge disappointment. The plot is nicely executed - and I mean *executed*. While "Amsterdam" may be well-structured and plotted, the very contrived and overtly 'plotted' plot does undo the novel itself. Technically well-written, but should've remained an unpublished experiment. I hope this book isn't symptomatic for McEwan. I'm certainly not rushing out to read more of his novels.
on 5 January 2004
Considering the subtlety with which most readers associate McEwan, this is a clumsy, cartoony and slightly cheesy story. Had I not known who had written it, I don't think I would have automatically thought of McEwan.
The characters are poorly drawn and completely unlikeable. His dissection of the British news industry has been written better in many other novels. Admittedly, his writing about music composition is insightful and clever.
A fair book but he has written so much better elsewhere
on 5 March 2015
This is enjoyable enough and definitely worth the read. I wouldn't put it up there with his best but you certainly get drawn into the psychology of the rivalry between the two and so if you are a fan of McEwan you should like this. Like many of his books it can be pretty much devoured in one greedy sitting.