Book Review: AMSTERDAM, by Ian McEwan

Having read a couple of McEwan's other novels (Atonement and Enduring Love) and, having absolutely loved them, Booker-prize-winning AMSTERDAM came as a bit of a disappointment. Forty-pages into it, I still hadn't quite determined the relationship between the two main characters, Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday. Clive, a successful composer who is finishing a commissioned symphony to mark the end of the millenium, and Vernon, editor of the Judge, both loved Molly Lane, and meet in the very first scene at Molly's funeral.

Sounds promising, yes?

What I've noticed about McEwan is his tendency to take characters you love and put them in terrible situations where, in a very real, very heartbreaking way, they tend to make bad choices (sort of "What happens if he doesn't save the small drowning child?" scenarios). He never misses an opportunity to let a character behave as a biased and self-preserving person (i.e. most people) would. Misunderstanding and wrong-doings abound, and in that sense, McEwan's novels are hard to read--challenging--but the writing is flawless, the characters incredibly rich, and the actions, the reasoning and the justifications of his characters all too believable.

But AMSTERDAM was lacking that intrigue somehow. The characters weren't terribly interesting--perhaps they were a little too true to real life--and by the end of the book I was rather disheartened. I kept holding out for a twist ending, something to tie it all together in a wholly unexpected way, but nothing came. The story fell out exactly like I'd thought it would--and hoped it wouldn't. There were some nice moments when McEwan described Linley's symphony--the rigors of composing, the delicate hum of notes before Clive put them on paper...

It's possible that I missed something in AMSTERDAM--McEwan does sometimes have sneaky endings--but he has many other novels to read. I recommend them.


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