The novel starts with a funeral of Molly Lane. Clive and Vernon, her former lovers, meet and chat about her husband George and another one of her lovers a right-wing Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, who is about to challenge party leadership and become a prime minister. Clive and Vernon despise both the controlling and possessive George as well as hypocrite Julian. Over the next days they also discuss the way Molly died, stripped by the disease of her mental faculties, they make a pact that if something like this ever befalls one of them the other one would kill them, to avoid Molly’s horrible end.
Clive is a composer working on a symphony for the millenium and struggling with the final motif. Vernon is the new editor of a newspaper aiming to change its direction to reporting more scandalous news to win back readers and market share. George, Molly’s husband, offers Vernon sensational material on Garmony that he found among Molly’s things. Vernon wants to publish it to stop Garmony from becoming a PM, when he discusses the issue with Clive they argue violently, not only about this specific situation but also about the moral principles. After the argument Clive travels to Lake District where he walks to work on the symphony’s final motif. During one of the walks he also makes a morally questionable decision. When he tells Vernon about it they have another argument and become as bitter enemies as only former friends can be. Both are doubting the mental faculties of the other one and are trying not to question their own choices.
At some point I got the impression that they feel so guilty they lash out at the person that dares to accuse them. The way the plot evolves is not the most probable, but it feels like the plot is only a prop to discuss matters of moral choices, guilt, the way we all defend our decisions, and what it means to put ones life in somebody else’s hands.
It is a short book written in a prose that’s almost transparent, it reads quickly, but it also feels like it was rushed. It touches on important topics, but never gets beyond scratching the surface. Characters also feel sketchy, like they lack gravity, their whole life boiled down to one decision.
Overall not a bad book, but left me feeling that the topic had more potential if only given more time and space to develop.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace
7 thoughts on “Amsterdam – Ian McEwan”
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My main problem with this book was the horribly unrealistic ending – the characters behave in a totally unnatural way entirely out of kilter with their previous characterisation. McEwan is very hit and miss like this – when he hits he is brilliant – I am looking forward to ‘The Nutshell’, having sampled the first chapter.
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Funny, I felt much the same as you about this one. I went in with high hopes because I have one reading friend who counts this as her favourite McEwan but it fell well short for me – didn’t quite have the cleverness or wit of some of his others.
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