Thursday, October 27, 2016

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan


Amsterdam
by Ian McEwan
Nan A. Talese, 1999
193 pages
source: my shelves

Publisher's summary:

On a chilly February day, two old friends meet in the throng outside a crematorium to pay their last respects to Molly Lane. Both Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday had been Molly's lovers in the days before they reached their current eminence. Clive is Britain's most successful modern composer; Vernon is editor of the quality broadsheet "The Judge." Gorgeous, feisty Molly had other lovers, too, notably Julian Garmony, Foreign Secretary, a notorious right-winger tipped to be the next prime minister. In the days that follow Molly's funeral, Clive and Vernon will make a pact with consequences neither has foreseen. Each will make a disastrous moral decision, their friendship will be tested to its limits, and Julian Garmony will be fighting for his political life.A contemporary morality tale that is as profound as it is witty, this short novel is perhaps the most purely enjoyable fiction Ian McEwan has ever written. And why Amsterdam? What happens there to Clive and Vernon is the most delicious shock in a novel brimming with surprises.


My thoughts:

Ian McEwan's novels, though relatively short, are not quick reads. Between his often controversial or uncomfortable subject matter, perfectly constructed sentences that beg to be reread, and the contemplative mood his stories tend to induce, it took me over a week to finish Amsterdam, a novel of under 200 pages.

Unfortunately, Amsterdam did not turn out to be a satisfying read. I didn't care for the story and positively hated the ending. I did not find it to be the "delicious shock" promised in the summary.

That's not to say there was nothing to enjoy in this novel. Clive's meditations on music and composition were fascinating, and I enjoyed reading about his ramble through Lake District. The description of the trail and the countryside made me long for a similar day of hiking.

McEwan's prose is beautiful, as always. In fact, it was the writing that kept me reading. Here are a couple of passages I highlighted:
We knew so little about each other. We lay mostly submerged, like ice floes, with our visible selves projecting only cool and white. Here was a rare sight below the waves...  
But Clive stared ahead at the empty seat opposite, lost to the self-punishing convolutions of his fervent social accounting, unknowingly bending and colouring the past through the prism of his unhappiness. 
(I smiled when I noticed the second quote appeared in Brona's post, too.)

I now understand why some readers describe McEwan's work as uneven. After enjoying Atonement, In the Company of Strangers, On Chesil Beach, and The Children Act, I was somewhat disappointed by Amsterdam. It is, by far, my least favorite McEwan novel. However, this experience will not deter me from reading the rest of the author's work.

My rating:



Thank you Care and Brona for reading with me.

24 comments:

  1. Part of the hiking scene was based on a real life event in McEwan's life, which is no doubt why it rings so true.

    Thanks for bringing my attention to the readalong for this book. It was a great way to read this book :-)

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    1. Brona - No wonder that was my favorite part of the book! Thanks so much for reading with us... sorry it took me so long to get a review posted.

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  2. I struggle with his writing so I'll probably skip this book.

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    1. Kathy - This is one I would recommend to only his most diehard fans.

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  3. Some of MacEwen's books are a little darker than others, but I don't recall any being of the sort that would cause me to say I struggled through. I've always loved his writing and for the most part, fly through. His latest, Nutshell, a thoroughly unique subject, one which will probably turn a few off without even cracking the first page, I found greatly amusing. In fact, hilariously funny in spots. As you can tell, Mr. McEwan ranks in the top tier with me.

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    1. JudyMac - In the Company of Strangers is his darkest novel I've read, and even that I can't say that I struggled through. His writing is just so beautiful and I read him so slowly. Nutshell sounds very unique and I can't imagine how he pulls it off, but will certainly give it a try at some point. Saturday and Sweet Tooth are still on my shelf, both purchased at summer library sales.

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  4. Sorry you didn't enjoy this as much as his other books!

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    1. Vicki - Even my least favorite of his books is still a novel I'm glad to have read... for comparison and completeness if nothing else.

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  5. I thought I had read this one but I don't think I have. He is hit and miss as far as plot but I find his novels so complex and just full of substance. He makes me work for it.

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    1. Ti - That's a great way to describe his books... complex and full of substance! And that explains why even though this wasn't a favorite, it was still worthwhile. And yes, he definitely makes you work for it.

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  6. I've thought about reading Ian McEwan because he's one of those names that I just see everywhere but from what I've read and from what I've seen I don't think he's really an author for me. I'm sorry to hear this wasn't as good as you found his previous books to be but it does sound like you got some enjoyment out of it. I do love his covers though!

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    1. Katherine - He's definitely not for everyone... and his books get so many reviews, quotes, etc, that I'm sure you can tell if he's not your style.

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  7. I still have several of his books to read, but my favorites are Atonement and Saturday. I felt the same about Amsterdam as you and wonder if you've read Enduring Love. I didn't care for that one at all!

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    1. Les - My book club talked about reading (or rereading) Atonement in December and I'd be all for that. I don't remember much more than thinking it was a great read. Saturday is on my shelf... maybe in 2017?

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  8. I am glad I didn't read too much of this book. I'd rather start with one of his more well-received works. I agree on the writing though - very beautiful!

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    1. Athira - I'm really glad you didn't finish - it's definitely NOT the place to start with McEwan. I do hope you'll give him a chance another time though.

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  9. I loved Atonement but I've been disappointed by McEwan since that. Nevertheless, I had Amsterdam on my bookshelf (can't remember where I got it from).

    But based on your review, and Brona's, I've decided to donate this book unread. Thanks for saving me the time. :-)

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    1. Debbie - Atonement is a tough act to follow. Have you read On Chesil Beach or The Children Act? I think you're safe donating Amsterdam unread.

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  10. This was the book that made me finally just give up on McEwan totally. I not a fan, and Amsterdam did me in. LOL

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    1. Beth F - Your stance on McEwan suddenly makes a lot more sense to me ;-)

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  11. Hmm. I will have to reread this McEwan work; as I don't remember it well (it was a long time ago) but I don't recall disliking it like you have. So that has me curious. Is it really bad?

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    1. Susan - No, it isn't bad at all... the writing is wonderful. I just didn't care for the story... and especially disliked the ending.

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  12. I felt the same way about Chesil Beach - even though I appreciate McEwan's writing style.

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    1. Lisa - Isn't that funny... Chesil Beach is one of my favorites!

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