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Saturday, January 06, 2018

Amsterdam (1998) by Ian McEwan


Book Review
Amsterdam (1998)
 by Ian McEwan

  There is no doubting that Ian McEwan is a top flight writer of literary fiction, with genuine cross-over potential- see best seller's on both side of the Atlantic and an Oscar winning movie version of his biggest, most ambitious work, Atonement.   And he is still very much active and writing, with six titles in the last decade-ish.   McEwans' rise is well chronicled in the 1001 Books list.  Atonement, published in 2001, six years before 1001 Books first edition came out, was his huge break out, but he actually won the Booker Prize in 1998, for Amsterdam, which bears strong elements from his "Ian Macabre" phase, but also the exquisite plotting and character development that (I guess) made Atonement such a smash.

  Like many of his books, there is something to lose by a thorough description of the story.  There is no question that McEwan's rise has been at least partially to his darkness and dramatic third act denouements.  If you make your way through his stuff in a leisurely way, each book comes as a mild surprise.  If there is any surprise to reading Amsterdam it's that it won the Booker Prize.  It's a short book, not three hundred pages long with decent sized print and generous margins.  There is no diversity element- all the character are well off Londoners.  The plot does concern itself with contemporary social issues in a certain way- that gives Amsterdam an element that his earlier stuff lacks.

  But I think the Booker Prize was just a "damn this is a great book by a great writer, and he sells, too, let's do this!"  That is how I imagine the Judges discussion that year.  Or maybe it was just a weak year- I don't recognize any of the other books on the shortlist from 1998.

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