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Amsterdam (1998)

by Ian McEwan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,5591701,027 (3.37)436
In the affairs of his dead wife, a British publisher discovers compromising pictures of the foreign secretary who was her lover. An opportunity for revenge on both the political and personal level.
Recently added bynelsam, essebi7, private library, brianstagner, totsgram, ksoni1, kaybeetwo, actjchl
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» See also 436 mentions

English (153)  Spanish (4)  Swedish (2)  Dutch (2)  Italian (2)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (168)
Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)
Two men whose friendship is fragile but deep ( )
  brianstagner | Aug 10, 2020 |
O poveste despre un compozitor care poate scrie simfonia vieţii lui. Ba nu, e despre un jurnalist care poate da o ultimă lovitură unui duşman politic. Sau poate poveştile se intersectează?

Dacă în general citeşti doar cărţi premiate, noteaz-o pe asta: a luat Booker Prize în 1998. Dar dacă e să te iei după "criticii de specialitate", e cea mai nasoală carte a lui McEwan (de pînă în 1998, să nu uităm graniţele). Dar tu trebuie să-ţi faci singur o părere, nu-i aşa?

I-am dat 5 stele, dar sunt subiectiv: mie îmi place mult cum scrie Ian McEwan, şi niciun "critic specialist" nu-mi va schimba părerea asta. :D ( )
  SebastianMihail | Jul 16, 2020 |
Often long-established authors, having been overlooked several times, end up being decorated for their lesser works, and in the case of Amsterdam, for which Ian McEwan won the Man Booker Prize, this pattern holds true. Not that Amsterdam is a bad book, but when I compare it to McEwan's best - Atonement, of course, along with Black Dogs and Enduring Love - it doesn't quite reach those same heights.

Nonetheless, it is hard not to admire the way McEwan writes. While managing to be as urgently postmodern in his style and themes as any other contemporary writer, McEwan pays great attention to the intricacies of plot and character. There is no navel-gazing in Ian McEwan's novels, which always have at their center some motivating event or other that, like a stone being dropped into a still pool of water, sends a series of waves rippling through the rest of the plot - the discovery of the corpse in The Innocent, the balloon accident at the beginning of Enduring Love, the false accusation of Robbie in Atonement, and so on.

Although the death of Molly Lane at the beginning of Amsterdam appears set to follow this same pattern, it is not the central event. Instead, her death brings together two of her former lovers, the composer Clive Linley and the newspaper editor Vernon Halliday. Rather than a single event, McEwan provides his two main characters with two moments that have broader consequences: for Clive, his failure to intervene in a possible rape so that he can grasp hold of a moment of musical inspiration; for Vernon, his decision to publish front-page pictures of Julian Garmony, a right-wing politician who was also a former lover of Molly's, dressed as a woman.

McEwan draws Clive and Vernon together first as friends and then, when circumstances turn against them, as enemies out to destroy each other. This pattern bears a strong resemblance to what happens to Bernard and June Tremaine, the husband and wife in Black Dogs who, having been drawn together by their Communist ideals, have their marriage torn apart by deep philosophical disagreements. Amsterdam and Black Dogs are both intended by McEwan, it seems to me, to be documents of their time, a summary judgment of the failures of the twentieth century as it draws to a close.

Like Bernard and June, Clive and Vernon are given opposing perspectives on the world - highbrow and lowbrow, artistic and commercial - that, for all their apparent disagreements, end up collapsing into an orgy of self-righteousness and mutual hatred. The perspective we get on the British media is, as one might expect, scathing, with McEwan delineating its willingness to plumb the depths of human depravity at the expense of any sort of sophistication or culture. Pages dedicated to literature and the arts are reassigned to sports, and real news is converted into grotesque sensationalism.

Just as scathing, though, is McEwan's description of the complacency of the cultured elite. His assessment of how Clive has benefited from the post-war boom while denying the same privileges to the next generation is razor sharp, particularly when one considers that McEwan himself is a product of this era. "Nurtured in the postwar settlement with the state's own milk and juice, and then sustained by their parents' tentative, innocent prosperity, to come of age in full employment, new universities, bright paperback books, the Augustan age of rock and roll, affordable ideals," writes McEwan. "When the ladder crumbled behind them, when the state withdrew her tit and became a scold, they were safe, they consolidated and settled down to forming this or that - taste, opinion, fortunes" (p.13). Such, then, is the state of post-Thatcher Britain, which forms part of a repeated pattern of social ideals that end in despair and inequality.

The curious thing about modernity, McEwan notes, is that this despair and inequality seems to emerge, paradoxically, from cultural origins that promise great beauty, joy, and hope. In making this point, Amsterdam points repeatedly back to the Romantics. The Millennium Symphony that Clive Linley is composing, for instance, is compared to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." In a conversation toward the end of the novel, Clive tells how he once set the Romantic poet William Blake's "The Poison Tree" to music. And of course, when he is in need of inspiration, Clive habitually retreats to the Lake District, a region of England that occupies a privileged place in English letters, having inspired authors such as William Wordsworth and Jane Austen.

Initially when I got to the end of Amsterdam I was a bit nonplussed by the way that McEwan failed to upstage my expectations as to how the story would end. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that the novel's depressing spiral was crucial to the point that McEwan was trying to make about the history of modernity, which is that no matter how forceful the push for change and reform, no matter how "enlightened" and scientifically advanced we become, the tedious fact remains that human society continues to resort to the old tactics of brutality and conflict. The more things appear to change, the more they stay the same. The city of Amsterdam comes to symbolize this paradox in the novel. "There was never a city more rationally ordered," writes McEwan, and yet it turns out to be the place where people can get away with murder (p.168).

What makes Amsterdam a somewhat less successful novel than its closest cousin, Black Dogs, is its lack of a third perspective. In Black Dogs that role is played by Jeremy, Bernard and June's son-in-law, who mediates between the conflict of the two central characters, and whose ability to see the gray areas that Bernard and June miss provides the novel with a hint of ambiguity and even hope. Amsterdam, however, feels a little unbalanced in this respect, and therefore underdeveloped - one might easily, one suspects, have transcended the doom and gloom of the bitter fight between Clive and Vernon by complicating our view of one of the other characters - Julien Garmony, perhaps, or George Lane, or even, best of all, Molly.
  vernaye | May 23, 2020 |
Well, this one may date back to 1998 but the Booker judges surely did it again - as we've seen countless times before, right author, wrong book.

Amsterdam opens with two friends and ex-lovers of the same woman meeting at her funeral. One is a successful composer, the other an editor of a British newspaper with a declining circulation. I can't bring myself to tell you the basic plot between the two as it's so preposterous I wouldn't know where to begin.

I was quite excited for the first quarter of this book. It had the feeling of building up to McEwan when he's at his best, when you get that McEwan special sauce that gives you a tingling sense of foreboding. I was practically rubbing my hands with glee after having been less enthralled with my last few reads of his. And then... well, it went a little flat. Somewhere along the way there'd been a slow puncture. I didn't see it coming, but the book was gradually deflating.

By the time I got to the middle it was a little stagnant, but I had my McEwan rose-tinted glasses on. "Don't worry", I told myself, "you know your buddy Ian - he'll throw a curveball right when you're least expecting it. This little so-so patch is just to catch you unawares". So, I continued on, waiting for the metaphorical Bogeyman to jump out. And out he came. But it was hardly the jump from the dark I'd been waiting for. More like he'd been standing in front of me in supermarket-esque fluorescent lighting for a good half hour in a ridiculous child's dressing up outfit before shouting 'boo' at me in a bored fashion. What I'm trying to say is that the twist was ludicrous and about as suspenseful as Trump visiting a tanning shop.

McEwan's Enduring Love the year before? Utterly fabulous. Creepy, edgy, unique. OK, I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek here with Amsterdam - it wasn't the worst novel I've ever read, but it certainly wasn't up there with McEwan's best, and by the end of the novel that slow puncture had turned into a totally flat finish. It certainly wasn't worthy of being a Booker prizewinner.

3 stars - I kept turning the pages OK, but in all it was a dud plot. Ian, I'm very cross with you. ( )
  AlisonY | Jan 6, 2020 |
This is an excellent tricky little novel. What I like best about McEwan (so far) is his ability to lull the reader into simply enjoying the ordinariness of his characters lives and then bam! something happens and you can’t quite believe it. He wouldn’t to that would he? Oh, yes, he would. ( )
  Seafox | Jul 24, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)
Because Booker prize deliberations go on behind closed doors, we'll never really know what led the judging panel to Ian McEwan's Amsterdam. Naturally, that makes it all the more tempting and intriguing to speculate. What discussions were there? What compromises were made? Who stuck the knife into poor old Beryl Bainbridge? Were there displays of taste and erudition from Douglas Hurd and Nigella Lawson? How was the case made for Amsterdam? Were there compromises, or just a fuzzy consensus? Did anyone dissent? Did anyone actually try to suggest that this isn't a very good book?
On the latter question, we must assume that the answer was "no" – or that the person making the case against the book was roundly ignored. As I shall now attempt to show, a point-by-point debunk of the novel can be carried out in around five minutes – even less time than it takes to read the thing.
added by KayCliff | editThe Guardian, Sam Jordison (Dec 6, 2011)
 
Amsterdam is an intricate satirical jeu d'esprit and topical to the point of Tom Wolfeishness. It is also funnier than anything McEwan has written before, though just as lethal.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Gabriele Annan (pay site) (Jan 14, 1999)
 
''Amsterdam'' is very British and, despite its title, takes place mainly in London and the Lake District. On the scale of nastiness, it gets high grades as well. But it is less unsettling than McEwan's earlier solemn-gory fables since its humorous dimension is everywhere apparent -- granted that the humor is distinctly black. Its tone overall, as well as part of its theme, reminded me more than once of the excellent 1990 Masterpiece Theater production ''House of Cards,'' in which Ian Richardson plays a sinister Tory cabinet minister.

What readers tend to remember from McEwan's fiction is its penchant for contriving scenes of awful catastrophe: human dismemberment in ''The Comfort of Strangers''; a confrontation between a woman and two deadly wild dogs in ''Black Dogs''; the tour de force balloon disaster that brilliantly opens ''Enduring Love.'' Nothing in ''Amsterdam'' quite measures up to these events. Instead, the tribulations of its two main figures -- a composer, Clive Linley, and a newspaper editor, Vernon Halliday -- are treated in a cooler, more ironic manner, even as they move toward disaster. This chilliness is an extension of McEwan's habitual practice of damping down the sensational aspects of his imagined encounters by narrating them in a precise, thoughtful, unsensational way. It may, in fact, make the violence, when it occurs, seem that much more natural and inescapable.
 

» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
McEwan, Ianprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Caulfield, MaxNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verhoef, RienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika Goicoechea, JesúsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JesúsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"The friends who met here and embraced are gone,
Each to his own mistake;"
~ W.H. Auden "The Crossroads"
Dedication
To Jaco and Elisabeth Groot
First words
Two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel with their backs to the February chill. It had all been said before, but they said it again.
Quotations
There was something seriously wrong with the world for which neither God nor his absence could be blamed.
(as irony): V.T. did that famous front page. Pushed all the copy onto page two and let the piture tell the story .
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Two old friends meet outside a crematorium on a chilly February day paying last respects to Molly Lane. Both Clive Linley, Britain's most successful modern composer and Vernon Halliday, editor of the quality broadsheet The Judge, were Molly's lovers in the days before reaching their current eminence. Gorgeous Molly had other lovers, including Julian Garmony, Foreign Secretary, a notorious right-winger tipped to be the next prime minister. Following Molly's funeral, Clive and Vernon will each make a disasterous moral decision, testing their friendship to the limits, and Julian Garmony will fight for his political life. Amsterdam, a short novel, is a contemporary morality tale that is as profound as it is witty. It is perhaps the most purely enjoyable fiction Ian McEwan has ever written.
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