202. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is a minimalist. More of a novella-ist than an novelist. The Telegraph quoted him saying 'if I could write a perfect novella I would die happy'. In that same article he was described as 'lucky to be allowed to publish novellas.' If not for the lack of temerity one could say - in finality, in absoluteness - that he is the best novella-ist, for it isn't often that one comes across an author who pares down his words, weighs and analyses them before applying them, cutting out all unnecessary words just to arrive at the precise meaning of what he is carrying across. Such detailed work of cutting out, cleaning, paring, has often been associated with visual artists and poets. And now McEwan.

Ewan's style is intense, absorbing, concentrated and focussed. His writings hardly entertain lateral stories, and even when they do they are an integral part of the main and contributes to the strength of the whole, like in Atonement. With his style and structure, McEwan has perhaps created a genre that is wholly his. Or rather perfected one.

In this 1998 Booker-winning Book, Amsterdam (Nan A. Talese, 1998; 193) McEwan tells the story of the men in a deceased woman's life. It's about jealousy, generosity and evilness and above all mutual murder. Molly Lane is the woman here and her two ex-lovers - Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday - had met to pay their last respects. Her husband - George Lane, not wanting to share the podium with any of her wife's ex-lovers cancelled the burial service. But what turned out to be a meeting of old friends turn out to be the worst disaster that could ever happen between friends. And it took the complex mind of McEwan to create the perfect situation for this.

With this book, and others like On Chesil Beach - a Booker Shortlist, McEwan has shown that he understands human behaviours, how the thinking processes take place, what we are likely to do in certain situations and he does not hold back. One could see the author working to take himself out of the scene, holding back from the aesthetics of the profession and working only on the essentials. However, he does not allow the characters to take the easiest routes out of situations. Their choices are the very things we think of doing but are afraid to execute. Ian has perfected his craft and deserves his recognition.

This book is recommended.


  1. What an interesting review.... I love books with this kind of story.. intriguing, engaging.. gripping.. unlooked-for.. and moreover a booker winning novel and a minimalist.. It seems to be one I would enjoy, I have taken note.

  2. I love McEwan's writing style and have had this book on my shelf for over a year. I'll be participating in a TBR challenge in the new year, so will put this one in the pile.

    1. It'll be a good addition and you'll enjoy it.


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