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Amsterdam: A Novel Paperback – November 2, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

When good-time, fortysomething Molly Lane dies of an unspecified degenerative illness, her many friends and numerous lovers are led to think about their own mortality. Vernon Halliday, editor of the upmarket newspaper the Judge, persuades his old friend Clive Linley, a self-indulgent composer of some reputation, to enter into a euthanasia pact with him. Should either of them be stricken with such an illness, the other will bring about his death. From this point onward we are in little doubt as to Amsterdam's outcome--it's only a matter of who will kill whom. In the meantime, compromising photographs of Molly's most distinguished lover, foreign secretary Julian Garmony, have found their way into the hands of the press, and as rumors circulate he teeters on the edge of disgrace. However, this is McEwan, so it is no surprise to find that the rather unsavory Garmony comes out on top. Ian McEwan is master of the writer's craft, and while this is the sort of novel that wins prizes, his characters remain curiously soulless amidst the twists and turns of plot. --Lisa Jardine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As swift as a lethal bullet and as timely as current headlines, McEwan's Booker Prize-winning novel is a mordantly clever?but ultimately too clever for its own good?exploration of ethical issues. Two longtime friends meet at the cremation of the woman they shared, beautiful restaurant critic and photographer Molly Lane. Clive Linley, a celebrated composer, and Vernon Halliday, the editor of a financially troubled London tabloid, could never understand Molly's third liaison?with conservative Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, who is angling to be prime minister, or her marriage to dour but rich publisher George Lane. Mourning the manner of Molly's agonizing death, which left her mad and helpless at the end, each man pledges to dispatch the other by euthanasia should he be similarly afflicted. Immediately afterwards, both Clive and Vernon are enmeshed in a crisis: Clive must finish his commissioned Millennium Symphony so it can premiere in Amsterdam, and Vernon must grapple with the moral issue of publishing photos of Julian Garmony in drag that George has discovered with Molly's effects. The clash between whether the demands of pure art are more valid than political accountability and financial solvency soon assumes a larger dimension that turns Clive and Vernon into bitter enemies and inspires each of them to seek revenge by the same means. McEwan spins these plot developments with smooth alacrity and with acidulous wit, especially focused on the way shallow and mediocre people can occupy positions of power and esteem: "In his profession, Vernon was revered as a nonentity." His ability to sculpt a scene with such arresting visual detail that it assumes a physical dimension for the reader (most memorably in the opening of Enduring Love but also evident here as Clive observes a woman being accosted by a rapist, and as Vernon watches a TV interview that signals the end of his career) are undiminished. But when, in the last third of the book, McEwan manipulates the plot to achieve a less than credible symmetry, it is obvious that, despite the Booker recognition, this is far from McEwan's best novel. That said, however, it will undoubtedly hit the bestseller charts, for McEwan, even when not quite at the top of his form, is a writer of compelling gifts. Major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (November 2, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385494246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385494243
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (415 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children's novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His other award-winning novels are The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, and Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Winter Wright on January 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ordinarily I find McEwan's work thrilling, but was disappointed by Amsterdam. Although the writing is masterly and the plot keeps you turning the pages, the story is insubstantial and ultimately unsatisfying.
Who knows why it won the Booker Prize? Surely The Comfort of Strangers or The Innocent deserved it more. Other reviewers have suggested variously that the committee felt guilty about ignoring McEwan's previous work, or because the book featured an interplay between theme and character brilliant enough to justify the award. I interpret that to mean that the judges thought it clever that the novel's characters were shallow, and that the newspaper Vernon Halliday edited was shallow, and that the symphony Clive Linley wrote was derivative and fatally unvaried, and that ultimately the book itself was shallow, too, and so decided Amsterdam was a brilliantly self-referential piece of---I don't know, meta-fiction or something.
Maybe so, but some of the social commentary in the book reads like a magazine article rather than a novel, like a 2,000-word piece in a weekend supplement, and I expect more from McEwan: strong characters and images and themes that resonate in your head like a fascinating bad dream.
Amsterdam is light entertainment, a finely written but forgettable tale by a brilliant author who's capable of producing much, much better work.
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54 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Sm Fay on May 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
McEwan's booker prize-winning novel traces the consequencesof a Machiavellian attitude towards work. Clive Linly a composer withan established reputation and Vernon Hailliday, editor of the struggle daily paper, The Judge, renew their former friendship at the funeral of their former lover, the larger than life forty-something year old Molly Lane.
There they meet George Lane, Molly's husband and another former lover Julian Garmony, the Foreign Secretary, who's despised by Molly's former lovers.
The novel traces the lives of the four men after Molly's funeral when they all face pinnacle moments in both their private and professional lives.
Amsterdam is a book without heroes. The characters fail to grab your sympathy, but this adds to the reader's curiosity as you try to unravel their true worth and nature. It's not a book about how the strong and ruthless survive but rather how obsession with work can turn into self-obsession and ultimately destruction as the books characters take personal desire over public responsibility.
The book's 196 pages make it more of a novella than a novel and some would argue that more time should have been given over to plot and character development. However an expansion of the books length could have faltered the quick tempo, that McEwan's rich language lends to the book, and the vagueness of the characters leads us to question rather than condemn them at the end, allowing for the books effect to linger long after the final page has been read.
This books quality has been questioned in comparison to other Booker winners but Amsterdam, a book so rich in dramatic irony should be judged on its own merits. This socio-political satire manages to examine such a thorny issue as human morality in a humorous and entertaining fashion and is a recommended read.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Excession on April 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
I've become a real fan of Ian McEwan this past year, and though I'm not completely through his catalog, I'm very impressed with his ability to have great ideas within a tight story. This may be his tightest story ... it moves very quickly, and the book can be finished in 3 to 4 hours.
The main characters, a composer and a newspaper editor, become embroiled in a political scandal that relates to the affair each has had with a recently deceased woman. Their friendship becomes strained, and the miscommunication that develops drives the story. The story moves quickly, and I disagree with those who dislike the ending -- it does work, at least for me.
I also think this book works as a good introduction to McEwan. Its spare style is indicative of his work. When you've finished this book, move on to Atonement or Enduring Love: both are excellent books.
A few general words about Ian McEwan. He pays great attention to the word choice in each sentence, but unlike some other post modern types, he has a real story with a real conflict. Among modern writers, there seems to be some dislike of plotting, but McEwan shows that you can write about interesting ideas and have a good story as well.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
In response to the prior reviewer, a book about "silly, conceited people" is not necessarily a silly and conceited book; consider The Great Gatsby. Amsterdam is a clever book that reveals the conflicts of people who have either found or placed themselves in moral dilemmas. The central characters share the common denominator of having been lovers of Molly Lane who has recently died. They are brought together at her funeral, and as the story unfolds she seems to have been the only true and trustworthy moral compass among them. The book causes the reader to contemplate our contemporary values. What have our morals and ethics become at the end of the 20th century? Consider the "integrity" of our political "leaders"; the media's right to know vs. an individual's right to privacy; the value of human life vs. modern medical science. The characters in Amsterdam come across as opportunistic, self-centered, and morally indecisive. Do we feel more sympathy for Vernon,the editor who must publish something scandalous to keep his paper afloat or for Julian, the politician whose private indiscretion is made public? Do we feel any sympathy at all? Even Clive the successful composer is corrupted and looks away because he believes his musical genius is more important than another human being. (echoes of Wilhelm Furtwangler?) Is it more important to save the Mona Lisa, a timeless work of art, or a transient human life? Today's politicians take polls first to determine which decision or action will most likely keep them in power. Amsterdam considers all of these issues in less than 200 pages and concludes in a deliciously wicked ending.
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