Ian McEwan is one of those authors whose name keeps cropping up in popular culture, usually as one of Britain’s best authors. So I was anticipating a lot of things when I read my first ever Ian McEwan novel.
Amsterdam is the story of four men whose lives intertwine after the death of Molly Lane, who was wife to one of the men, and a lover to the other three. There is Molly’s husband George, who is a Publisher, and Molly’s lovers, who include Clive Linley, a composer; Vernon Halliday, a newspaper editor; and Julian Garmony, MP and Foreign Secretary. Clive Linley is a man looking for inspiration for his new orchestral piece, whilst Vernon gets presented with every newspaper editor’s dream; a set of compromising photos of Julian. What follows is a story of lovers’ rivalry, blackmail, being a witness to a crime, cross-dressing and a suicide pact.
McEwan’s attention to detail is his greatest strength as a writer. He describes the everyday actions of his characters in minute detail in. I appreciated McEwan’s descriptions of the locations in the novel, particularly Scafell Pyke in the Lake District and the city of Amsterdam itself, as I have been to these places, and just reading about them brings back vivid memories of them.
As a thriller, Amsterdam keeps the reader glued from chapter to chapter, with delicious twists and turns right until the end. Much to McEwan’s credit, the novel is short, which helps the reader digest the multi-character prose. The novel is a well-crafted story and certainly shows why McEwan is held up by readers and literary critics alike as a master of prose.
The next book on my list is an earlier winner dating from 1974, back when it was just the ‘Booker Prize’; Holiday by Stanley Middleton (no relation to Kate or Pippa).