Dan Sandman

06: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

In Books, Fiction on 07/02/2014 at 12:00 pm

Amsterdam by Ian McEwanThis compact novel, a tragic comedy of sorts, is split into five acts. It begins with a funeral, moves on to explore the newspaper business and the classical music world, and builds up to a satisfyingly dramatic conclusion. The two central characters, old friends Clive and Vernon (a leading composer and a prominent editor) are both asked to make an important moral decision. Clive must choose whether to help a stranger in desperate need or whether to complete an unfinished symphony; Vernon’s choice is between upholding his principles of quality journalism or starting a scandal. In each case, personal ambition must be weighed up against public interest. The resulting drama is almost Shakespearean.

Careful now, I’m a about to spoil the ending.

Holland is famous for being one of the most liberal countries regarding its laws on drugs and prostitution. However, one thing that is less talked about is the country’s legalisation of euthanasia. This fact plays an important role in Act V of Amsterdam, which takes place in the dutch city. But really, the novel’s title is misleading, Amsterdam is not really about Amsterdam at all. This book is about London’s rich and powerful; it takes a comic look at them whilst asking the reader to think about morality.

In my opinion, this is a good book but not a great book. It’s written in a similar style to Saturday, my favourite Ian McEwan novel, but the time-space is less concentrated than in that work; there are two central characters instead of one. McEwan’s concise style is still there, his re-imagining of consciousness with words present, but there’s not enough of the best bits, the passages where words dig down deep inside. At times, the plot or the moral dilemma can be guilty of taking over from the characters’ inner world. Still, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to fans of the author.

Almost great.


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