Sharon's Reviews > Amsterdam

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
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Jul 04, 08

bookshelves: fiction_literature

Molly Lane has died after a rapid descent into dementia. We meet three of her lovers and her husband outside the crematorium. Their fates are entwined, but the novel focuses on the characters and choices of two of the lovers. Clive, a famous composer, is struggling to finish a symphony to commemorate the millennium. Vernon is a newspaper editor whose mandate is to increase the circulation of his paper in a tabloid era. To say anything more would spoil the plot, although the ending itself seems both too contrived and too neat. The situation and the professions of the characters--the third lover is a politician facing a career-threatening scandal--offer ample opportunity for witty satire of contemporary society. But this novel is also both a character study and a very black comedy. McEwan creates two fully-realized characters who earn the reader's empathy even when they behave badly. These are men confronting their own mortality and the role of their work in the world, but their narrative is profoundly comic, perhaps because of their exaggerated sense of their own importance and the absurdity of their end. McEwan's prose is masterful. Particularly lovely are the passages in which Clive ponders the creation of his symphony, the role of music, and the emotions of a composer the first time he hears his music performed.

This book has been on my shelves for almost a decade. I decided to read it because, after my negative reaction to everything but the prose of "Atonement", I wanted to try another McEwan. Hearing echoes of Evelyn Waugh, I thoroughly enjoyed both the humor and the language of "Amsterdam", and I look forward to reading more McEwan.

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