Book Review: Amsterdam

Although my last call for reading suggestions appeared to fall on deaf ears ((Thanks Mackenzie! I do realize that if I don’t post w/any regularity or w/any real substance I can’t really expect readers to stick around, but thanks to those who have.)), but in the real (non-blog) world L. suggested Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan as a quick, humorous read. It did not disappoint. It’s a short book that revolves around the relationship between two old friends well past mid-life and the way in which the death of a mutual past lover ends up changing their lives forever. The characters are well-drawn, complex, but above all, self-absorbed, and therein lies humor in the book. The characters are so wrapped up in their own lives that they fail to see their place in a larger context, which, gain, produces disaster in the end.

The book was written in 1996 ((Amazon gives a 1999 publication date but I believe that’s for the paperback. I could be wrong, though. I often am.)) and it’s set in England, but its questions about an individual’s responsibilities to society and friends or loved ones are certainly as relevant to a contemporary American reader as they would have been to a mid-’90s British reader. For example, one of the major conflicts in the book is whether a newspaper editor should publish photos of a prominent politician in which the politician is cross-dressing. Is it ethical or responsible for this newspaper to publish such photos that are going to suggest that this male politician is either gay or at least enjoys dressing as a woman? Is such information relevant to the public? Is it something voters really deserve to know, or is it just something for political opponents to use to assassinate this man’s character? If you’ve followed the Larry Craig “scandal” at all, you know that such questions play a major role in contemporary political and social discussions.Amsterdam‘s examination of them ends up being somewhat conservative, but before reaching the book’s conclusions on the matter McEwan sketches it thoroughly and opens it up for the reader to consider for him/herself. That sort of provocation is an important ingredient for any book, as far as I’m concerned.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a short, engaging read that raises provocative political, social, and moral questions while at the same time maintaining a sort of humorous tone with regard to its characters and subject, Amsterdam: A Novel could be very satisfying for you. [tags]politics, sexuality[/tags]

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Amsterdam”

  1. You know, I’m always impressed by how much extracurricular reading you get done. I still haven’t even read the last Harry Potter yet (no spoilers!). I want to read the Omnivore’s Dilemma, but mostly I’ve given up. (I guess I did just read a “how to” kind of book about cycling — but that almost doesn’t count.)


  2. Didn’t this win the Booker Prize? I have a love/hate relationship with Ian McEwan’s work. Some of his early short stories are downright weird. You might enjoy The Child in Time. My tutor at Oxford spent a lot of time with me trying to suss out its postmodernist elements. :)

    Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood to be angry and depressed, read Douglas Brinkley’s book on Hurricane Katrina.

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