Thursday, October 28, 2010

Book Review: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

For a book published in 1998, Amsterdam is remarkably out of date. Like any good O. Henry novel, it gets most of its plot push from a lack of access to cell phones. Between that, mention of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, and a charming use of a post card, it's all so...Britishly quaint. Which is amusing because the 24-7'ing of the news cycle is another major point of the book.

I'm not complaining. You wouldn't complain of similar issues in a Dickens novel, so I don't see why you should here, either. Amsterdam is probably the first book I've read that won the Booker Prize, and it's an incredibly well-written book. The characters are all human and all interesting, the dialogue is realistic, and it's a pleasure to read in the rainy, gloomy, weather we've been having in Istanbul recently. In October/November, Istanbul turns into London, and it was fun to be transported there by a book. McEwan is good at that.

Don't be alarmed, however, at the amount of death, funerals, evil greedy sadistic people and the like. It's a dark book full of dark people. It ain't the sort of thing that will reaffirm your faith in humanity. Amsterdam is more like what the world would look like if everyone was a Christopher Hitchens clone.

And its a thriller. You are aware that bad decisions will be made, but not quite sure how. Like waiting for the killer to strike in a horror movie, you're stuck waiting for the decision to be made. It makes for page turning for sure.

That said, it was a good read. It's relatively short and I read the vast majority in one night when I couldn't be bothered to leave the apartment. I'll be on the lookout for the rest of McEwan's books that I've heard such good stuff about. It's rare you find discussions of love and loss, hate and friendship, vanity and vaingloriousness in 170 pages. But it was a great 170 pages.

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