by Ian McEwan
Nan A. Talese, 1999
source: my shelves
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.
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.
Thank you Care and Brona for reading with me.