Thursday, August 25, 2011

Athena K's review - Amsterdam

Right away, I have to admit that this Amsterdam my first Ian McEwan novel - and it certainly won't be the last! 

Clive and Vernon reconnect at the funeral of a former (mutual) flame, which starts a series of strange interactions, a mutual promise, a falling out, and finally, revenge.  The plot line reminded me of Roald Dahl's short stories - a little bizarre, plenty dark, but also humorous.  McEwan's style however brings this tidy little story to the next level.  Absolutely clear prose, and fully formed characters - how have I not discovered Ian McEwan before?

Clive is a musician, a composer working on his opus - a symphony commissioned to celebrate the Millennium.  He is a musical traditionalist who abhors modern dissonance. This also makes him a bit of a sell-out in the eyes of some music critics.  Clive is also a tender and loyal friend. Clive is also a tremendous coward who blames his selfishness on his art.  Vernon is in many ways Clive's perfect counterpoint.  Vernon is the editor of a failing newspaper, whose proposal to save the paper involves publishing stories about conjoined twins who bite each other and various political scandal. He's very busy, often engaged in two conversations simultaneously, while Clive seeks solitude.  Vernon is hardly cowardly, but neither is he loyal, warm or creative.  He is in fact a bit of a bully.

These two personalities are developed in a short number of pages, and then continue to reverberate off of each other for the duration of the novel.  McEwan writes beautiful but concise, tidy prose that so often seems to explain a characters motive or internal thoughts exactly right. And although the plot moves along as a fast pace the characters remained the driving force of the story, and I didn't find myself wondering at any point what McEwan was trying to say about this or that political topic - music, media or the ethics of what we here in Washington State "Death with Dignity."  I just enjoyed the telling.


  1. Athena, you are on a roll! I read this years ago and really enjoyed it. It was fun "reconnecting" to it through your review.

  2. If you loved Amsterdam you'll adore Atonement.

  3. I went through a big McEwan phase and Amsterdam was one of the highlights. Save for the fiasco of an ending. McEwan is a much stronger storyteller in the setup than in the finish. For example, the opening scenes of both Enduring Love and Chesil Beach are strong enough to stand on their own. Both of them could exist as masterpieces of short fiction, but McEwan develops them into okay novels that peter out in the end. Oh well. Both Atonement and Amsterdam are still good novels.

  4. He's amazing. I second the recommendation for Atonement next-it's even better, in my opinion!