My copy of ‘Amsterdam’, picked up for $1 at Book Thug Nation in Brooklyn
Every few years I decide that it’s really time for me to start liking Ian McEwan. I know how much happier my life would be if I achieved this; he’s written loads and publishes regularly so there’s a wealth of literature for me to enjoy if only I could get into it.
My previous experiences of his writing have been that I enjoy the humour and the accomplished style, but, before the end of the story something palls and so I’ve never been keen on re-reading. As the only books that stay on my bookshelves are volumes that I plan on reading (either first time or as a repeat) this means I’m consistently slightly embarrassed about his absence from my personal library. I am, after all, someone who prides themselves on being a cultured British reader.
My shame is finally over though, because I’ve read ‘Amsterdam’ and I loved it! The characters, the first-world problems, the machoism – at last, it all slotted into place.
‘Amsterdam’ begins with a funeral at which we meet the unpopular husband and the high-profile lovers of the deceased Molly Lane. George Lane is jealous, dull and petty, but it’s worth mentioning that we only learn about him from his rivals’ points of view. These rivals are a newspaper editor, a composer and a politician. The first two are actually good friends and their complex relationship and individual work struggles provide the action for the rest of the short novel.
Both men have major responsibilities and both also face ethical challenges that will test their morals, their friendship and their integrity. The dilemmas are succinct and highly effective while, considering the start of the novel, the hint of death and retribution is never far from the surface. The story is ‘dark’ and ‘twisted’ and all of the adjectives regularly attached to McEwan’s writing.
In the past I’ve taken issue with McEwan’s presentation of modern masculinity versus femininity. Not in ‘Amsterdam’ though, where the dead femme fatale Molly is the heart of the story and, being dead, her character is legitimately up for grabs. All of her lovers construct narratives either through media, music or political rhetoric and so it makes complete sense for them to appropriate her identity and legacy. Her husband, incidentally, is a publisher. There is a serious point being made about ownership and dominance in relationships, but it is never overworked or forced.
If you’ve liked but not loved: ‘Atonement’, ‘Enduring Love’, ‘The Cement Garden’ and/or ‘Solar’, you should really give ‘Amsterdam’ a try. It’s one of those excellent books where absolutely everything works.
What about you, are there any authors you’ve been ashamed about not enjoying or any writers where multiple attempts have paid off?