~ A Book Review: Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan ~

Posted: March 17, 2022 in book review, Book reviewing, books, creativity, Fiction, morality, readers, Story, traditional publishing, words, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

I have finished reading my fifth novel for 2022, Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan. This book was chosen as a last-minute rush-buy on my way out of a bookstore, and it was one of those times when you make a snap decision on one factor alone. In this case, I bought it because I recognized the author as the man who wrote Atonement.
Amsterdam is a contemporary adult novel, a short read at only about 200 pages long. When I started reading it, I was put off at first by the whiff of literary fiction. The pretension of literary fiction makes my toes curl. I thought, is this…? But then McEwan began to relax a bit, and I no longer had to re-read every sentence three times to understand it, so I began to enjoy the ride more.

The story begins with two friends meeting at a London crematorium where a service is underway for Molly Lane. Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday were both Molly’s lovers at different times in the past. Also at the funeral is Julian Garmony, the Foreign Secretary, a right-winger in line to be the next prime minister.
We hear the story from Clive and Vernon’s point of view as dual narrators. It is written in a linear style, apart from a few deviations. Clive is a highly successful composer, and Vernon is the editor for a local newspaper, The Judge. We meet both men when they are at the height of their careers and powers. However, they say pride comes before the fall. Amsterdam is a disturbing instructive tale to make anyone think twice. Alain de Botton, reviewer for The Independent on Sunday, called Amsterdam ‘a pitiless study of the darker aspects of male psychology.’ While I couldn’t comprehend the terrible choices the two characters made as the tragedy unfolded, I couldn’t look away.

Vernon sees compromising photos of Julian Garmony and makes the fateful decision to run an expose about the scandal in his newspaper. He aims to topple the Foreign Secretary from his pedestal while at the same time plumping up readership numbers for The Judge. Every moment of self-applause from Vernon anticipating the fall of his rival made me squirm.
Concurrently with Vernon setting up an editorial trap for Garmony, Clive is under pressure to deliver an orchestral score for an important social event. He is already late delivering the music and struggling to find the peaceful frame of mind necessary to create art. He is drinking too much. Then he takes himself away to the country to write. Unfortunately, the stress follows him, and Clive makes a terrible moral choice while there, of such epic poor judgment, that I blanched. I blanched and knew he was doomed. No spoilers though, sorry.

The dominoes start to fall. The political maestro, Garmony, turns the tables on Vernon. Clive and Vernon bicker and things spiral even further downhill from there until the book ends in catastrophe. It is a moral tale only for those with the stomach for it. Touted as a comedy, albeit a dark one, I failed to find anything comedic about Amsterdam. Perhaps the funny aspect was so high-brow it went over my head? I also failed to connect with the lead characters. Clive and Vernon were rendered too shallow for my liking. And yet, Amsterdam won the Booker Prize in 1998, so what do I know.

Some say this win paved the way for the rapturous response granted to Ian McEwan’s novel, Atonement. Either way, his works have earned the author considerable acclaim. Born in the United Kingdom in 1948, McEwan studied at the University of Sussex. He received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970 and later received his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia. The recipient of numerous awards, McEwan was awarded a CBE in 2000. He is the well-regarded author of seventeen books.
My rating: Two and a half stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol

“It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
— Robert Benchley


Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line

  1. Hi Yvette, I see that this blog got lost in my inbox. I like a lot of Ian McEwan’w writing, but this one, not so. We all like different genres of writing, and I lean towards literary, but don’t like pretentious work. If it seems like hard work, I usually put a book down.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. yvettecarol says:

    I’m interested to hear you didn’t take to it either, Vivienne. I always feel terribly guilty when I can’t give a glowing review!


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