Thursday, November 4, 2010

Review: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 1998

It's about:  Four men, united by one woman with whom they have all had an affair, reunite at her funeral. From that point, their futures are fatefully intertwined, each one making decisions that send the others dangerously close to the edge. It's a novel about the choices we make and the price we are willing (or unwilling) to pay for morality's sake. Though this is my first McEwan book, I am familiar with and have seen the movie of Atonement, so I'm going to venture a guess that this is a bit of a recurring theme of his.

The story centers around two of Molly's former lovers who have remained close friends throughout the years -- Clive, a celebrated composer working on his highly anticipated millennial symphony, and Vernon, the Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper headed, like many others, to the pits.

I thought: Since McEwan's focus is on morality and the ripples sent out by the decisions we make, it doesn't necessarily come across as the most believable tale -- especially the ending, which seems a little far-fetched and contrived -- the sort of cautionary tale that Mark Twain would take the mickey out of in his later years. However, it accomplishes its purpose in that it made me question what decision I would make between doing the apparent "right thing" and preserving the integrity of my life's work.

The story itself is enjoyable and intriguing, and though a few parts (descriptions of scenery, etc) dragged, it was never more than a couple of pages before the story picked up again. Although I did not particularly see myself becoming bosom buddies with any of the characters, I was still interested to see what happened to them -- a difficult balance successfully achieved, I thought.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about this novel is that it's all about the psychological realism -- what it means to be a human, how a human thinks, what goes on inside our heads -- my favorite kind of novel. So kuddos, Ian, for that.

Verdict: It isn't the BEST novel of its kind I've ever read, but it's still worth sticking on the shelf -- or borrowing it from the library's, as I did.

Reading Recommendations: It's a pretty quick read -- only 200 pages with spaced out lines, so this would be great to take with you on vacation

Warnings: A few f-bombs (3 or 4) and a brief, mild scene of a (feeble and quickly abandoned) attempt at masturbation

Favorite excerpts:
"So many faces Clive had never seen by daylight, and looking terrible, like cadavers jerked upright to welcome the newly dead."

"This exercise of authority did not sharpen his sense of self, as it usually did. Instead it seemed to Vernon that he was infinitely diluted; he was simply the sum of all the people who had listened to him, and when he was alone, he was nothing at all."

Currently reading: My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok