Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

by Lily Wren

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Publication Date: December 1998
Category: Contemporary Fiction

No big, wordy, analytical review from me today, if ever there is. I’m tired, work is busy and life is going through one of those ‘let’s throw all the crap we can at you and see where it ends up’ phases. So, just the bare minimum from me, something which I can look back on and say ‘Ah yes, I remember reading that book’ because the way things are going I’ll be lucky to remember my name by last Thursday.

I have to say I finished Amsterdam before I realised I’d started it. One thing that can be said – it’s a quick read and I found McEwan’s style of writing pretty easy to follow.  However, I came away with the sense that there is something missing from the book and I’m not quite sure what. I found the characters a little thin and not very likeable and the story just plodded along. It won the 1998 Booker award though and McEwan wrote ‘Atonement’ (which I did enjoy), so who am I to argue?

The story centres around old friends, Clive and Vernon, who were at one time both lovers of a recently deceased woman (although not at the same time I hasten to add, or maybe they were? I wasn’t really paying attention at one point). The book begins where we see them at her funeral and her husband and another former lover are in attendance (I think she had a few lovers in her time). The other characters are important to the story but remain mainly peripheral as McEwan focusses on the deteriorating friendship of Clive and Vernon. I don’t really want to say much more about the story as I would run the risk of giving some serious spoilers and you might enjoy the book more than I.

I think Ego is the key to this story. All the characters portrayed have huge egos and are unable to see beyond their own needs. They aren’t very likeable, sympathetic or nice. They are extremely self-centred. I suppose that’s the way it’s meant to be. However, I just couldn’t connect and didn’t feel for any of the characters and so felt somewhat detached from the story.  That said, I finished it which is always a plus point and I raced through it in double quick time. In all honesty I wouldn’t put myself out there and say to you ‘yes, it’s great! Go read it!’ but equally I didn’t hate the book and so it gets 3 stars from me.