Saturday, 24 March 2018

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan - review

This story begins at a woman's funeral and I soon wished it had begun 20 or so years earlier when that entertaining sounding lady was very much alive and bounding around between all her lovers. She was probably engaging which is more than you can say for the lovers, and the husband, who congregate at the funeral.

Coincidentally another novel, also by an Ian, although with an extra i (Iain) also begins at a funeral. Here is the first sentence of both novels:-
"It was the day my grandmother exploded."
"Two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel ..."

The first is the opening of Iain Banks' delightful mystery "the Crow Road," Banks remains one of my favourite Authors. The second is, obviously, from Amsterdam by Ian McEwan and the entire book is not up to the author's best standards. The writing is probably clever, his writing usually is, but the characters are so unlikeable that one doesn't give a damn, I had to make myself go on reading.
The portrayal of composer Clive Linley shows a convincingly vain and self-centered man convincing himself of his own genius (even while acknowledging that
the term is over-used) and blithely disregarding his responsibilities to his friends and to a stranger who he witnesses being attacked. He is only obsessed with completing his masterpiece, his millennium symphony which will premiere in a few day's time. There are some good descriptive passages on his surroundings in his chaotic home and when he goes hiking up towards Scafell Pike.

Meanwhile Vernon Halliday, insecure editor of upmarket newspaper 'The Judge', is less rounded as a character. His surroundings are hard to visualise, although an office is an office is an office - maybe that's the author's point - and his motivation is muddled. One thing he is clear about is his desire to bring down Julian Garonwy, the Foreign Secretary. Garonwy is equally unlikeable though even less detailed.

The end is surprising unless you're paying attention early on, which I admit I wasn't really, but it's not a shocking finale unless you cared. I didn't. Oh yes, Amsterdam is the location of the story's denouement, otherwise it's totally unimportant.
Ian McEwan's position as one of my favourite authors is in danger of slipping. This is actually my second attempt at getting through this story of arrogant men, being arrogant. There's meant to be some humour here, but it's hard to spot, there is room for so much more. 


That's my review published on GoodReads - for some reason I can't get this blog to link directly to the review, so I've copied.

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