Amsterdam is the second of four books I bought at a second-hand bookshop in the autumn (the first being The Necropolis Railway) so another paper read which has become a bit of a pleasant novelty. It also made it to the top of my list because it was short and so I could squeeze it in between the other books I plan to read this month, and because I have confidence in McEwan to deliver a good read.
Amsterdam begins at the funeral of Molly Lane who was only in her mid 40s. Attending the funeral are three of her ex-lovers as well as the husband who survived her. The story mainly follows Vernon Halliday, the editor of a somewhat stuffy newspaper, and Clive Linley a composer of enough consequence to be composing a symphony for the millenium (the book came out in 1998). They are old friends and near the beginning, inspired perhaps by the fact that Molly died of a degenerative, Alzheimer’s-like disease, they make a pact to ‘help each other out’ if they were ever to be in similar circumstances. Molly’s death also brings to light some compromising photos of the other ex-, Julian Garmony, who happens to be the Foreign Secretary and the issue of whether or not to publish raises its head for Halliday, whilst Linley has a moral dilemma of his own to deal with.
I said when I reviewed Solar that I probably ought not to have had the sympathy for the main character that I somehow did – he was a slightly pompous, self-important man, blind or indifferent to his own moral failings. Well it seems that McEwan specialises in such types as here we have not one but two characters from a similar mould. Setting them against each other, having each be able to spot in the other the flaws he’s unable to acknowledge in himself is clever and amusing. I can see how some might find the ending silly or unrealistic but I took it in a spirit of wry satire and as such it made me smile.
7/10 – a deceptively slight read with a pleasingly gentle sense of humour.