2009: 135. Amsterdam

“Two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel with their backs to the February chill.”

Amsterdam, Ian McEwan

       This starts out like a relationship drama (if a sort of nasty, nostalgic one for men) where two friends meet up at the funeral of their mutual former lover, the lovely Molly Lane.  They are both reasonably successful - a composer and the editor of a snooty newspaper - and they are both aghast at how lively bright Molly (who died of a degenerative disease) ended her days.  Each promises the other that they will prevent themselves ending up like Molly - they enter into an euthanasia pact.  Where the novel goes from there is dark, and twisted and pretty perfect, if you’re into that cynical Highsmith-esque stuff.  Which I sometimes am (especially when I am prepared for it in advance, and don’t waste any time getting emotionally involved with the characters), and here it worked, and I enjoyed it.  

    BUT - and this is no way a slam on the book, more a comment on the Booker Prize - I’ve read later McEwan - Atonement and On Chesnil Beach, and I have to say that I found both more complex and more emotionally engaging than Amsterdam.  Even though Atonement made me crazy the first time I read it, and even though On Chesnil Beach is a pretty slender novella, I couldn’t help but think that Amsterdam was this jewel box of a nasty novel, where his later work is richer.  Is it possible he won the Booker too soon?  Not that it matters much, of course, to your enjoyment of Amsterdam, but I think that if you’re familiar with later McEwan you might find this a bit thin - not that it doesn’t work on its own terms - but that that there’s not as much there there.


Date/Place Completed: November 2009; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Booker Prize, Book Resolutions


© Carrie Dunsmore 2017