Amsterdam is an earlier work from Atonement author, Ian McEwan. It is stuck somewhere between long novella and short novel length, but it’s not a quick read. When you pick up a McEwan work, you’re in for an investment, no matter how short the work.
Amsterdam is the story of two middle-aged men who are friends with each other. They don’t have much in common–Clive Linley is a world-renowned composer and Vernon Halliday is the editor of a popular broadsheet. The one thing they do have in common is that both are former lovers of the now deceased Molly Lane. This novel follows their stories in the days that follow her funeral. In it we see their coming to terms with the death of their lover and their ensuing struggles both internal and external.
When I started reading Amsterdam, I could help but roll my eyes at the sheer pretentiousness of the story and the characters. I wanted to smack the two main characters upside the head with a humbler book–something like War and Peace. They way they tittered about, talking about Molly and how none of her other lovers, or even her husband were good enough for her was infuriating. Clive and Vernon spoke a lot, but they never really listened to each other–it was all just pseudo-philosophical noise. They are completely self absorbed through the entire novel.
However, I soldiered on, and I am glad I did. Sometimes there are characters who I loath that just float through their stories without ever growing or getting their comeuppance. I won’t spoil the story, but I ended this book with a short chuckle and smile. It is a story of selfishness, snobbishness, willful blindness, euthanasia, and a subtle bit of revenge.
McEwan brilliant toys with his readers’ emotions. He wants you to hate these characters. He wants you to be delighted by the twist. You as the reader, however, must suffer through the annoying pomposity first, and not everyone will be willing to put forth that investment.