Roderick Hart's Reviews > Amsterdam

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
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's review
Oct 16, 08

I hadn't read any of his books before, though I have heard him holding forth, which he does with a most disengaging supercilious expression, as if he were superior to those he engages with. This novel won the Booker Prize, which I find hard to believe.

We don't really learn a lot about Molly, but we do meet her husband and ex-lovers. In some ways the book charts the demise of the ex-lovers leaving the unpleasant husband, George Lane, in charge of her memory in much the way he had charge of her physical being in the days of her last and fatal illness. The book is called Amsterdam because two of the ex-lovers bump each other off in that city by the same method – euthanasia. This was ludicrous. And both of them, as they fade away from this life, believe they see Molly.

Vernon is a newspaper editor therefore a nasty piece of work, plotting to undermine the foreign secretary, Garmony, with photographs from his private life which have no bearing on his ability to discharge his function. Clive is a composer of conservative leanings (i.e. his work is tonal) who is working on a commission, a millennium symphony. Events conspire to ruin the conclusion of the last movement, though the fact he spends most of the daylight hours asleep can't help. He also uses MIDI to help with orchestration, which can only be done up to a point. Higher notes on violins sound crap, bowing for strings is impossible, as is phrasing for wind instruments. I can see 'electronic' composers using MIDI, since it gives them access to a huge range of synthesised sounds. But not Clive.

Perhaps the most realistic part of the book was the government spin machine going into action to wrong-foot Vernon and his breaking story.

But this cannot be McEwan's best book. You see it coming long before the end. Eminently forgettable.

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