So instead of rereading Kafka on the Shore, I picked up and breezed through McEwan’s Amsterdam. Light reading, and I was finished in an hour or two.
So: McEwan. Winner of the Booker Prize. “A dark tour de force, perfectly fashioned.” So says Ms . Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times.
Hmm. That’s what I have to say. Hmm.
It started off well, with the deft handling and setup of a master craftsman. Characters and their relationships were established well within the first chapter. Molly Lane was vividly described, and remained the missing heart of the narrative throughout. Interesting characters, witty writing, dark humor, etc.
However, it proved to be smaller than the sum of its parts. I set the book down when I finished with the strange sensation that I had just read a supremely well written shaggy dog story. An extended Darwin Award tale. Where two friends are driven by delusion, selfishness, myopic moral vision and paucity of spirit to mutually assured destruction. Their trajectories, once established, made their collision not only predictable, but banal.
There were some rivetting moments, most noticeably the enigmatic altercation between the female hiker and the stranger during Clive’s walk, and Clive’s own musical raptures (which, however, read like a poor man’s attempt to mimic Proust’s virtuousity in describing the affect of the ‘little phrase’ on Swann in Swann’s Way).
Amsterdam was undone by its trite ending. How poetic! How neat! How cruel the bonds of friendship when undone by such tragic flaws! (Yawn) There was no character growth. I never felt invested in either Clive or Vernon, and thus couldn’t care less that they got screwed. George’s final gloat really hammered in the feel of an extended grim joke.
I’d give the whole thing a B+. Good writing, a deft ability to portray characters quickly and succinctly, and… (I can’t think of further praise), undone by a clever plot which fails to draw the characters out or the reader in. Not what I’d expect from a vaunted Booker Prize winner.