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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Start, Lukewarm Ending
Love Ian McEwan. This is a writer who'll call you names, but will giggle still and kiss you afterwards. His comedy and his portrait of modern life (or modern Britain during and after the Thatcher years) is without equal, and one should thank him for it.
But AMSTERDAM, his most critically-acclaimed work so far, is too obscure, too 'crammed' a book for this reviewer to...
Published on May 14 2004 by JRU

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cold in Amsterdam
Ian McEwan is, without a doubt, one of the greatest writers of dark fiction today. But his novella "Amsterdam" is something of a misfire, reading more like the sluggishly-filled-out outline for a novel rather than a novel itself. While it has the seeds of genius, his usual introspection and depth is both missing and sorely missed.

Molly Lane is dead, her mind...
Published on Feb. 23 2007 by E. A Solinas


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cold in Amsterdam, Feb. 23 2007
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Amsterdam (Paperback)
Ian McEwan is, without a doubt, one of the greatest writers of dark fiction today. But his novella "Amsterdam" is something of a misfire, reading more like the sluggishly-filled-out outline for a novel rather than a novel itself. While it has the seeds of genius, his usual introspection and depth is both missing and sorely missed.

Molly Lane is dead, her mind and body wrecked by an unspecified disease. Now her assorted lovers and friends reunite one last time, including Molly's ex-boyfriends Clive and Vernon, respectively a prominent composer and a not-so-respected newspaper editor. Because of Molly, they are friends -- and they enter into a pact because of her death.

But things go awry when Vernon gets his hands on photos of the Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, cross-dressing and photographed by Molly. Eager to bring down Garmony and bring up his readership, Vernon wants to publish the photos in his newspaper; Clive is disgusted by this, yet he allows a rapist and murderer to go free for the sake of his musical inspiration. Which man is worse?

"Amsterdam" is like a city in winter: pretty at a distance but rather empty and cold when you walk through it. In theory it has all the elements needed for a great novel, but it feels vaguely unfinished, as if McEwan was expanding an outline into a full-fledged novel but somehow never finished the job.

The characters are lacking in the complexity found in most of McEwan's other books, where many dimensions can be found. Clive is almost impossible to connect with; Vernon is more understandable, given his waning career. But if these characters aren't really connectable, McEwan uses them to make us look at morality, hypocrisy, and where our bad intentions can lead us.

Aside from the characters, the prose is simple and straightforward: it describes what the characters do, but very little of what they think. As a result, some of the actions -- such as Clive watching a woman being attacked -- seem almost random. But in places, such as Mrs. Garmony's public speech about her husband and Vernon, his brilliance shines forth, and the entire ending is lit up by the irony.

So while an acceptable novel by most standards, it's perhaps the least of McEwan's works thus far. Has its moments of pure brilliance, but in large patches, it's dreary and empty.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where's the beef?, Oct. 22 2008
By 
Jack Blatant (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Amsterdam (Paperback)
I echo the cry of that terrible harridan of the 1980's Wendy's commercials. I enjoyed making my way through this, but by the time I was done I was like the venerable man after Chinese food: full, but hungry and unsatisfied shortly thereafter.

I'm not going to be the guy who drops spoilers in a review, but my word, does anyone else see the echoes of Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana?" Maybe I just read them too closely together and conflated them circumstantially.

At any rate, I'm glad that I borrowed the book, and didn't pay for it... scandalous as it may be to say that in an online bookseller review.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Start, Lukewarm Ending, May 14 2004
By 
JRU (PARRAMATTA, AUSTRALIA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Amsterdam (Hardcover)
Love Ian McEwan. This is a writer who'll call you names, but will giggle still and kiss you afterwards. His comedy and his portrait of modern life (or modern Britain during and after the Thatcher years) is without equal, and one should thank him for it.
But AMSTERDAM, his most critically-acclaimed work so far, is too obscure, too 'crammed' a book for this reviewer to highly recommend (Not that there is a need for it. This one, afterall, won THE Booker Prize). Here, four brilliantly constructed characters attempt to out-manouvre each other for no given reason (or is it perhaps because of pride? you decide). You will find it entertaining and inspiring to read how McEwan engineered each of his plots to deliver a psychological study (no matter how small the examination is) of his four major characters. You will feel their pain, their bitterness, their loneliness, their heartlessness, yet in a narrative that is straightforward and unsentimental. (His Julian Garmony, a cross-dressing politician of brilliant machiavellian talent, is one character you'll either love or hate. McEwan's account of Garmony's grasp of power simply is wonderful). Reading AMSTERDAM is like experiencing a Toni Morisson novel written by a PBS or an Economist (UK weekly mag) journalist, and this, I know, is not a bad thing.
This is a good introduction to McEwan, and a book highly enjoyable. But, as mentioned briefly above, the ending is quite lukewarm...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars And not a tulip in sight, June 28 2005
This review is from: Amsterdam (Paperback)
Apparently, I am in the minority in liking AMSTERDAM (which would, of course, include those individuals involved in selecting the winner of the Booker prize). It has been a long time since I have taken the time to read a novel straight through-the exception being the excellent and well-crafted BARK OF THE DOGWOOD and the novel LOVELY BONES-----but this story -- of the politics of friendship -- kept me hooked from the opening scene. AMSTERDAM opens at the funeral of Molly Lane, and treks the perverse friendship of two of her former lovers -- Vernon and Clive, a writer and composer, respectively. As the tale unfolds, it becomes evident that the loss of Molly -- their only link and their only real identity -- undoes them. In addition to the plot, with an interesting ethical twist regarding the slippery slope of euthenasia, the poetic prose of the novel and the myriad underlying plots make this book a pleasure to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A case of the Emperor's new clothes, Jan. 3 2007
By 
Erez Gordon (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Amsterdam (Paperback)
What a galling act, to gift this trite, self indulgent, shallow personal billboard (not to mention dithering, pointless and irrelevant) novel with the Booker.

The shelves of this world are full to bursting with satisfactorily written novels deserving of nothing more than a polite pat on the back for the author's application and determination in achieving publication.

Awarding this novel with the Booker is akin to lauding George Bush for his political acumen.

Stand this novel beside Coetzee's Disgrace and watch it blush.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Made for t.v. movie on paper, May 2 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Amsterdam : A Novel (Paperback)
I'm going to trash this book, but first I have to say that McEwan writes well line to line, as he explains where people are and what they're doing, and their surroundings. He's a master of efficiency and clarity of prose. Nothing I say below attacks his way of putting information across to the reader. Rather, it's the story he tells that bugs me. In short, it's just plain dumb.
If you like genre fiction, mysteries, suspense, then
you MIGHT like this, but if you're looking for literature
look elsewhere. And really, if you like genre fiction
the masters of the genres will probably satisfy you more
than this foray by an allegedly literary writer into what might be called suspense or mystery fiction.
There is VERY LITTLE character development in this 50,000 word
story (most novels are about 100,000 words; Amsterdam is really
a novella).
The story is all geared toward plot and feels VERY forced as things come together.
I'm starting to consider award labels (Booker Prize, Nat'l Book Award, Pulitzer, etc.) more as warning flags than anything else, given the low quality of many recent award winners (Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Michael Cunningham's The Hours, etc.). It's clear to me that in this business who you know and who likes you and who does not, plays a large role in things. Literary quality does not.
Now to give you a synopsis without giving away the whole story.
We have two friends, a newspaper man trying to save his job by boosting the circulation of his paper, and a composer trying to finish a symphony that must be done in time for a millenium celebration.
In the past they had both been the "lover" of a particular woman (maybe I should just avoid books that use the word "lover" seriously and not in jest). She's died, and in going through her things another man, her husband, finds scandalous photos of a particular politician that the newspaper man would love to bring down. Apparently the dead woman and this politician had been friends or more than friends at some time in the past and she took these lurid photos. The husband (widower) phones the newspaperman and offers him the photos.
Publishing these photos would boost the paper's circulation and bring down the politician who, because he is a conservative, is veiwed by all as evil. At least the newspaper man THINKS publishing the photos will ruin the politician. The newspaper man's composer friend disapproves of the plan to publish the photos on ethical grounds, then goes off on a trot to the country to find inspiration to finish his symphony.
While communing with nature the composer spies a man and woman engaged in a tussle. He doesn't know if it's a serious assault or just some lover's quarrel or what, but he really wants to finish his symphony (the deadline is looming), a bird has just whistled in his ear (literally) and inspired him, and he's afraid that if he doesn't act NOW and write down the music the bird has inspired, he'll lose it. Thus, he sits on the horns of a dilemma, help the woman and lose the song in his head and maybe miss his deadline, or run off and jot down the song inspired by the bird and let the woman fend for herself? Of course the right thing to do is clear, and most of us would have no problem deciding what to do, but this guy does.
I'll stop there. It's really silliness from my point of view. It's all based upon coincidence and situation, as a comedy should be, but not as a serious drama should be. I found it ridiculous. Not only that, but BECAUSE the only thing that matters here is plot, you really have no desire to read a lot of the stuff that goes on in between the big plot moments because you realize after a little reading that none of that in between stuff matters. It's filler. What you have hear is an outline for a t.v. movie.
And this is a serious criticism. This "novel" owes more to the history of television than it does to the history of literature. It is built upon Columbo, not upon Jane Austen, James Joyce, Henry James, George Eliot, Proust, Hemingway, or any author you can imagine. Even good genre fiction runs deeper than this.
And yes, I suppose t.v. got its ideas originally from books, but what I'm saying is this novel doesn't plumb through the depths of t.v. to THAT deeper literary source of t.v. drama; instead, it floats lazily in the t.v. cliche's built on top of the original literary sources of t.v. genre fiction.
Okay, that's all.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Why Amsterdam?, April 28 2002
This review is from: Amsterdam : A Novel (Paperback)
I have had this book on my tbr shelf for quite some time, and have been looking forward to read it. I had heard so many good things about Ian McEwan, and on top of it this book was a winner of the 1998 Booker Prize.
The book though did not meet any of my expectations. The book had a quite good start. A woman dies, and in her funeral two of her formal lovers meet. And Molly Lane's death makes them look upon their own life and vulnerability in a new way. How can they know how long they will live? How can they know that they will not get such a terribel decease as Molly Lane got? Better to die than take the risk. And they get a pact with each other to help each other to end their life if something happend.
This could have been a valuable book in the euthanasy debate, but instead the book is so flat, and McEwan manage to give no life to the carachters.
Also the name Amsterdam confuses me. It might have something to do with the liberal laws on euthanasy in the Netherlands. But we have to read to the very last pages of the book before Amsterdam gets any part at all.
The somewhat good and interesting part of the book, that made me give two instead of just one start, is the way Ian McEwan writes only half of the story, and the rest is up to the reader's imagination. You are bond to make up some of the story yourself, and a few places this works out.
Britt Arnhild Lindland
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not McEwan's best, but that's still very good, April 21 2002
By 
Excession "excession" (Westfield, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Amsterdam : A Novel (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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4.0 out of 5 stars Light, yet filling., March 16 2002
This review is from: Amsterdam : A Novel (Paperback)
Amsterdam is not a masterpiece, nor what I perceive to be the crowning glory of Ian McEwan, but it is a fine novel... well worth the time spent in its pages. Who else can say so much, while using so little tree bark?
McEwan's skill is best seen in his ruthless dissection of character, and in this book, he stretches two guys out like laboratory frogs. We see their guts, (the inner workings), and follow the disintegration of a lifelong friendship... Like the hissing of live grenades, there is a brooding that lurks in his pages...yet McEwan keeps it all closer to being light and comical than heavy and morbid.
The amazon editorial review (above) gives a great synopsis of the book. I will add only that the story addresses the way that vocational (professional) ambition can supercede and radically displace the naked commitment of friendship. The dustjacket of my hardcover version depicts a duel taking place in a forested area. Does a duel take place in the book? No. But, suffice it to say... the dustjacket is appropriate in a way that will not be understood until the very final pages. And you will want to get to those pages.
This is the perfect book to take along with you when you know you will have 4 or 5 hours of non-interrupted reading time... (train, plane, bus, coffee-shop). If you can't find time to read McEwan, I must say to you, "Wow, are you ever busy!"
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2.0 out of 5 stars An unengaging and unconvincing book, March 1 2002
By 
Penguin Egg (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Amsterdam : A Novel (Paperback)
Ian McEwan is Britain's leading literary artist, so anything he publishes should be greeted with enthusiasm. However, this is a disappointment. This is a story of two men: one is a composer, Clive Linley, who is busy writing a symphony; and the other is a newspaper editor, Vernon Halliday, who publishes a series of photos in order to ruin a right-wing politician's career. A mutual lover, Molly Lane, who has since died, took the pictures. To publish them, Linley believes, would be to besmirch the memory of Molly Lane, whom they both loved. They fall out and their friendship sours; eventually, after a series of misunderstandings, themselves plot contrivances, turning to hatred. I won't give away the ending. I will only say that it is ridiculous. McEwan should read more Ian Banks to see how to develop clever but plausible twists to his endings. Failing that, just read a couple of Agatha Christies.
There is a lot that is good in this novel. The characterisation of the two main protagonists is excellent, and the description of the creative process of a composer is marvellous, but this does not save the book. The story fails totally to engage.
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Amsterdam
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (Paperback - May 25 1999)
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