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Showing 1-10 of 101 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 422 reviews
on January 18, 2015
To be fair, I am generally (although not unequivocally) a fan of Ian McEwan. Amsterdam includes many familiar McEwan themes such as fidelity, politics, writers as characters and irony.

These themes are cleanly entwined in the plot as Clive and Vernon mourn the death of Molly.

Clive and Vernon each have a past with Molly, but remain longtime friends who lean on each other in their time of grief.

They also share a strong dislike toward Molly's politician paramour, Julian, as well as her husband, George. They don't understand her choice of Julian or George, as they consider both to be bland in personality and looks. These feelings are acerbated because Julian is shown to be a bit of a political snake, and George keeps his free spirit wife confined and away from her friends as her illness progresses.

Clive and Vernon ask each other for an important favor, the kind you only ask a dear and lifelong friend.

Some time later, they each face a moral dilemma. Being as close as they are, they each confide in each other regarding the moral dilemma. They each are able to reason that they themselves only did what they had to in their own dilemma, but harshly judge the other's actions.

This is where the true irony comes into the story.

Like all of McEwan's writing, Amsterdam says quite a bit in a few words. There are some lessons without being preachy on 'judge not lest ye be judged.' It is very tongue in cheek, like the very best of Ian McEwan.
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on September 18, 2017
Starts interestingly, soars high during the first and second act and the finale is a letdown. Agree with other critics that the language is great, and makes me want to re-read several lines, and I might re-visit some passages - the ones that describe human nature, and aligns it to nature in general, there are several quote-worthy passages here.
However, the ending, though is a neat twist, seems out of character. It seems forced.One might justify it as dark comedy or something similar, but still, there is a lack of a strong buildup towards this finale - much like Clive's composition.
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on June 13, 2014
Who done it; a plot to destroy by the mysterious, not to mention dead, Molly Lane? or was it a plot from a former lover? Clive a successful musician; Vernon a rising newspaper reporter; Julian a politician with a secret past; George, the last, who has it in for all three companions. With upcoming events, all following the death and funeral of poor Molly, the former lovers of the deceased have an increasing amount of contact with each other, wanted or accidental. Pictures, a premier story; a symphony and a rape; a man out to get MP, how can Ian McEwan possible connect all three. Through one woman: Molly. Almost like a physical entity, Molly plays a hand in the demise of all but one. Short, confusing, and delicate, Amsterdam is where is happened--the closing scene of it all. Each lover is consumed by his own greatness, riding on others and bailing on others to get what he wants; punishment can never go too far for any of the trio, or should I say quartet. Fabulous and entrancing, a dark affair with a surprising end that you almost knew would come true from the start.
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on January 31, 2013
Often long-established authors, having been overlooked several times, end up being decorated for their lesser works, and in the case of Amsterdam, for which Ian McEwan won the Man Booker Prize, this pattern holds true. Not that Amsterdam is a bad book, but when I compare it to McEwan's best - Atonement, of course, along with Black Dogs and Enduring Love - it doesn't quite reach those same heights.

Nonetheless, it is hard not to admire the way McEwan writes. While managing to be as urgently postmodern in his style and themes as any other contemporary writer, McEwan pays great attention to the intricacies of plot and character. There is no navel-gazing in Ian McEwan's novels, which always have at their center some motivating event or other that, like a stone being dropped into a still pool of water, sends a series of waves rippling through the rest of the plot - the discovery of the corpse in The Innocent, the balloon accident at the beginning of Enduring Love, the false accusation of Robbie in Atonement, and so on.

Although the death of Molly Lane at the beginning of Amsterdam appears set to follow this same pattern, it is not the central event. Instead, her death brings together two of her former lovers, the composer Clive Linley and the newspaper editor Vernon Halliday. Rather than a single event, McEwan provides his two main characters with two moments that have broader consequences: for Clive, his failure to intervene in a possible rape so that he can grasp hold of a moment of musical inspiration; for Vernon, his decision to publish front-page pictures of Julian Garmony, a right-wing politician who was also a former lover of Molly's, dressed as a woman.

McEwan draws Clive and Vernon together first as friends and then, when circumstances turn against them, as enemies out to destroy each other. This pattern bears a strong resemblance to what happens to Bernard and June Tremaine, the husband and wife in Black Dogs who, having been drawn together by their Communist ideals, have their marriage torn apart by deep philosophical disagreements. Amsterdam and Black Dogs are both intended by McEwan, it seems to me, to be documents of their time, a summary judgment of the failures of the twentieth century as it draws to a close.

Like Bernard and June, Clive and Vernon are given opposing perspectives on the world - highbrow and lowbrow, artistic and commercial - that, for all their apparent disagreements, end up collapsing into an orgy of self-righteousness and mutual hatred. The perspective we get on the British media is, as one might expect, scathing, with McEwan delineating its willingness to plumb the depths of human depravity at the expense of any sort of sophistication or culture. Pages dedicated to literature and the arts are reassigned to sports, and real news is converted into grotesque sensationalism.

Just as scathing, though, is McEwan's description of the complacency of the cultured elite. His assessment of how Clive has benefited from the post-war boom while denying the same privileges to the next generation is razor sharp, particularly when one considers that McEwan himself is a product of this era. "Nurtured in the postwar settlement with the state's own milk and juice, and then sustained by their parents' tentative, innocent prosperity, to come of age in full employment, new universities, bright paperback books, the Augustan age of rock and roll, affordable ideals," writes McEwan. "When the ladder crumbled behind them, when the state withdrew her tit and became a scold, they were safe, they consolidated and settled down to forming this or that - taste, opinion, fortunes" (p.13). Such, then, is the state of post-Thatcher Britain, which forms part of a repeated pattern of social ideals that end in despair and inequality.

The curious thing about modernity, McEwan notes, is that this despair and inequality seems to emerge, paradoxically, from cultural origins that promise great beauty, joy, and hope. In making this point, Amsterdam points repeatedly back to the Romantics. The Millennium Symphony that Clive Linley is composing, for instance, is compared to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." In a conversation toward the end of the novel, Clive tells how he once set the Romantic poet William Blake's "The Poison Tree" to music. And of course, when he is in need of inspiration, Clive habitually retreats to the Lake District, a region of England that occupies a privileged place in English letters, having inspired authors such as William Wordsworth and Jane Austen.

Initially when I got to the end of Amsterdam I was a bit nonplussed by the way that McEwan failed to upstage my expectations as to how the story would end. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that the novel's depressing spiral was crucial to the point that McEwan was trying to make about the history of modernity, which is that no matter how forceful the push for change and reform, no matter how "enlightened" and scientifically advanced we become, the tedious fact remains that human society continues to resort to the old tactics of brutality and conflict. The more things appear to change, the more they stay the same. The city of Amsterdam comes to symbolize this paradox in the novel. "There was never a city more rationally ordered," writes McEwan, and yet it turns out to be the place where people can get away with murder (p.168).

What makes Amsterdam a somewhat less successful novel than its closest cousin, Black Dogs, is its lack of a third perspective. In Black Dogs that role is played by Jeremy, Bernard and June's son-in-law, who mediates between the conflict of the two central characters, and whose ability to see the gray areas that Bernard and June miss provides the novel with a hint of ambiguity and even hope. Amsterdam, however, feels a little unbalanced in this respect, and therefore underdeveloped - one might easily, one suspects, have transcended the doom and gloom of the bitter fight between Clive and Vernon by complicating our view of one of the other characters - Julien Garmony, perhaps, or George Lane, or even, best of all, Molly.
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on September 24, 2016
This novel was not bad at all. I had it as a college book assignment.. it took me a minute to actually come around reading it (P.S- the audio-reading is on YouTube!)
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on May 7, 2017
An excellent example of the surprise-ironic ending, and of course a biting commentary on the literary/artistic pretensions of the high-culture celebrity class.
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on August 28, 2015
As to be expected from an Ian McEwan novel this has been eloquently written. It is not commercial fiction so some may find it a little bit slow paced. Read it to the end, and you will be surprised how well the characters have been developed although the time frame is just a few weeks.
The plot centres around the death of Molly, a woman with a history of many lovers, including three of whom attend her funeral. The funeral sets into motion the secret fears and jealousies of the three men and their machinations to destroy one another. There is a clever twist in the tail.
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on January 11, 2013
It is disappointing to read a novella by a man who surely can write, but who fails to use his skills as a writer or a story teller. The thin outline of this book provides a healthy skeleton which could be fleshed out nicely by an able writer. McEwan is doubtless an able writer. But this book never moves below the surface, and it pivots to an inherently unbelievable outcome. It is understandable that two lifelong friends, reacting to the sudden medical breakdown and death of a friend, could enter a mutual euthanasia pact: don't let that happen to me; I would rather die, and I want you to help me if I am unable to do so myself. Pre-Alzheimer's patients might have such thoughts. But McEwan suspends logic, and compassion, to foist onto us double deaths ostensibly fulfilling the pact-- when the facts reflect only the pique of two grumpy, disappointed almost-old men who end up murdering each other. Not a good story, not well enough told-- a swing and a big miss.
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on July 30, 2016
Who would have thought to give Ian Mcewan 2 starts? I read a number of his books and enjoyed them greatly. He is a first-rate writer. But this book is dud. I think the writer was so bored with the story that he just could not wait to end it. And ended he did, with the most ridiculous, nonsensical ending of that side of the pond. And the characters are as uninteresting as the ending.
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on April 27, 2017
Requested gift?
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