These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
That is all.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian Mcewan

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:

November 19, 2003

[Warning: this review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.]

While McEwan's brilliant "Atonement" moves along at a snail's pace, "Amsterdam" is here and gone in the blink of an eye. It's not that the novel is fast-paced or a page-turner--there just aren't many pages. I finished the book over the course of 3 lunch hours at work and it wasn't that there was a lot of exciting stuff going on in the novel.

The story is about two friends and a politician who all loved Molly Lane, who we never actually see because the story begins at her funeral. Vernon, the editor of a stodgy newspaper, receives some revealing pictures taken by Molly of the politician--who is in line to become the next prime minister--from Molly's widow. At the same time, Vernon's friend Clive is writing a Millennial Symphony and inadvertantly witnesses a rape in the mountains that he doesn't tell the police about. Clive is incensed when Vernon runs the pictures, because he feels it disgraces Molly's memory. Vernon is angry at Clive because Clive is angry with him and Vernon figures out that Clive witnessed the rape and didn't go to the cops. When the pictures come out, the politician is able to win the support of the people but is blackballed in political circles.

So then, for reasons I still don't understand, Vernon and Clive poison each other in Amsterdam and are put to death by Dutch suicide doctors. Huh? Did they mean to kill each other or was it just an accident? A case of mistaken identity or something? That's what my first reaction was, but now I'm pretty sure they both meant to do it. Maybe I'll have to reread the book at some point (when I have a couple of free hours).

The entire problem with this novel is that it's too short. There's simply not enough of a build-up to provide adequate reason for why two lifelong friends would decide to bump each other off. Granted they had difficulties, a couple of rows (as they say in England), but that wasn't reason enough for murder. Both guys were under quite a bit of stress, but would it really drive them to whack each other? I don't think so.

Maybe it's because this book is British, but I know in America people would not be so forgiving if they found out a top politician was dressing as a woman and posing for pictures. Just because the man's wife comes out and says, "I know about it and I'm cool with it" doesn't mean everyone is going to instantly forgive him and call for the head of the newspaper editor who would dare to run the pictures. Thinking of recent presidential transgressions, people are more apt to shrug and say, "Well, it's OK as long as it doesn't affect him getting the job done." but an angry mob wouldn't storm the newspaper like Dr. Frankenstein's castle or anything. The entire scenario seemed contrived to me.

To get on my soapbox for a minute, I think what would have really helped this book were some flashbacks. Don't just TELL us how much Clive, Vernon, the politician, and the widow cared for Molly, SHOW us through some flashbacks of the time they all spent with Molly. That would have not only fleshed out Molly, but also would have given readers a better understanding of why two old friends were willing to kill each other over her memory and it would have better defined her relationship with the politician so that we might know why he posed for those pictures in the first place. On the whole, I think that would have really helped the story by adding some useful length.

McEwan's writing is competent as always, but having read "Amsterdam" and "Enduring Love", I'm really not impressed with his work other than "Atonement". I certainly wouldn't have given this book the Booker Prize (the British equivalent of a Pulitzer).

"Atonement" was like a haunting, beautiful melody that sticks with you long afterwords (with its slow build-up I always think of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" you know, that song they used in "Platoon") while "Amsterdam" is a quick little pop song that went in one ear and out the other (like a Britney Spears song). It's too short, too underdeveloped to make it worth the purchase price.

No comments: