What I’m Reading: Amsterdam


So I just finished read Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam.It’s a neat, powerful little read and helps give McEwan, in my mind, a more vivid definition as a writer. Of his work I have read On Chesil Beach before; it was a sombre account of sexual discovery and personal influence. In comparison to Amsterdam the work held more of an emotional relevance, I found it easier to relate to the understated and melancholy tone of the story. However, in many other ways Amsterdam achieves much also as a story tinted too by sadness. McEwan’s interesting characters unravel, and rival, and are interesting to read about.

In short, Amsterdam is the tale of two men: Clive and Vernon. The latter is an editor for a politically focussed magazine whereas the other is highly regarded composer. Both are connected in the story from the death of a mutual friend and lover. From her funeral, onwards, events begin to unravel and as we learn more about each man we ultimately see both make poor moral choices. This narrative is focussed and tidy, it focuses on a relatively small time scale in both Clive and Vernon’s lives. But the events which happen are on a drastic and important scale and it is to McEwan’s credit that we too, as readers, care for the events he writes about.

I will not describe the moral decisions, nor the plot in any more detail for fear of giving too much away. Though I will say this, for a book so strengthened by its long explorations of the protagonist’s psyches it is also marred by the bluntness of some its drama. I felt that Clives moral face-off, and also the ending both did not compliment McEwan’s otherwise brooding and accelerating writing style. To have these events built up, or alluded to for so long then to just have a crude and obvious introduction to them, to me seemed a little pointless. On the other hand, whether this may or may not have been an aware and deliberate decision  they do not ruin for me what is an otherwise strong piece of fiction.

I have read that no other Book Prize winner has received such split favour with it’s readership (if only they had read my damning Life of Pi article), and I think I can see why. Personally I found McEwan’s writing style rather elegant and (in a good way) dramatic; certainly more so than it was in On Chesil Beach. However there is something about the story that also lacks that five star touch, maybe even, four stars. I’m not sure if hindsight is dulling the effect the book had on me when I was reading it, or whether that is just the virtue of an OK book. But I think now, to look back on Amsterdam, I see a well written and enjoyable book and nothing more. Not a classic, not a waste of time. Just a 3 out of 5 star title.

About Matt Knight Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: