Monday, September 23, 2013

There wasn't really much else to do. Make something, and die.

AmsterdamAmsterdam by Ian McEwan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Molly Lane, a flirtatious restaurant critic, dies from amnesia (inferred), her former lovers Clive Linely - a celebrated composer - and Vernon Halliday - editor for The Judge - reconvene at her funeral. Also at the funeral are George Lane, Molly's widowed (and detestable) husband, and Julian Garmony, who is running for prime minister and also once Molly's lover.

The memory of Molly trails Clive as as he works on his chef d'oeuvre, and accompanies Vernon as he struggles to save his declining newspaper. As the debut of Clive's symphony in Amsterdam inches closer, and while Garmony continues his campaign, Clive and Vernon encounter ethical dilemmas that force them to choose between what is 'morally right' - at the cost of their friendship - and what is 'best' for their personal objectives and careers.

Amsterdam is a thoroughly personal story; regardless of the scope of events its characters deal with, their each whim has its base on firmly grounded - and even depraved - personal desires. Both Clive, who struggles with writing his "Millennial Symphony", and Vernon, who attempts to save his newspaper, gladly dive into reprobate, degenerate waters to achieve their aims: the former does it to write the piece of a lifetime, and the latter does it for a return to glory.

Amsterdam is darkly humorous, well-structured and poetically written. Especially during McEwan's expressive, elegiac accounts of Clive's music do readers understand why The Times acknowledged him as one of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945." It is a quick yet thought provoking and plot-chasing read that will leave readers thinking about its beginning (spoiler) at its end.

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“We knew so little about each other. We lay mostly submerged, like ice floes with our visible social selves projecting only cool and white. Here was a rare sight below the waves, of a man's privacy and turmoil, of his dignity upended by the overpowering necessity of pure fantasy, pure thought, by the irreducible human element - Mind. ”