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Ian McEwan

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To purchase Amsterdam

Title: Amsterdam
Author: Ian McEwan
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 193 pages
Availability: Amsterdam - US
Amsterdam - UK
Amsterdam - Canada
Amsterdam - India
Amsterdam - France
Amsterdam - Deutschland
Amsterdam - Italia
Amsterdam - España
  • Winner of the 1998 Booker Prize

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Our Assessment:

B- : well written, it is a good read that only disappoints in a ridiculous ending.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor A 17/12/1998 Ron Charles
Daily Telegraph A+ 21/9/1998 David Profumo
Daily Telegraph A- 16/9/1998 Caroline Moore
FAZ . 13/10/1999 Stephan Maus
The Guardian . 5/9/1998 John Keenan
The Guardian B 24/4/1999 Nicholas Lezard
The LA Times B- 25/12/1998 Richard Eder
The New Criterion B 4/1999 Brooke Allen
New Statesman C- 11/9/1998 Stuart Burrows
New York . 11/1/1999 Nick Meyer
The New Yorker . 7/12/1998 Daphne Merkin
The NY Rev. of Books B+ 14/1/1999 Gabrielle Annan
The NY Times A- 1/12/1998 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 27/12/1998 William H. Pritchard
Salon B- 9/12/1998 Craig Seligman
The Spectator C 12/9/1998 Anita Brookner
The Sunday Times A 13/9/1998 John Sutherland
Time . 7/12/1998 Paul Gray
The Times B+ 19/9/1998 Jason Cowley
TLS . 4/9/1998 Phil Baker
The Village Voice C 16/12/1998 Paul Elie
Wall St. Journal B+ 27/11/1998 Wendy Bounds

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus. All grant that he writes well. Considerable (but not unanimous) disappointment regarding the last part of the book.

  From the Reviews:
  • "The boiling wit of Amsterdam won't be everyone's cup of tea, but those thirsty for satire will gulp down this little book." - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor

  • "For all its brevity, this novel is so well done that it has the feel of a much larger work." - David Profumo, Daily Telegraph

  • "McEwans Roman [wird] von trivialen Erzählmustern unterlaufen. Das kann man als handwerklich perfektes Ineinandergreifen von Handlungssegmenten lesen -- oder als antiquierte dramaturgische Albernheiten. (…) McEwan ist ein vorlauter Erzähler. Er lässt nichts offen. (…) (D)ieser Roman hat nichts zu bieten, was ein Film nicht ebenso gut oder besser könnte." - Stephan Maus, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "There is a distinct whiff of Evelyn Waugh in this book, not only in its style but in its subject matter." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "McEwan’s characters are magnificently petty, and their author brings them to life with all his usual skill and panache, his marvelous combination of severity and humanity, for three-quarters of the novel. But at that point he suddenly comes close to ruining it all with a smart, synthetic ending that makes Clive and Vernon seem as cartoonish as they had hitherto been true. The result is that the book is flawed, perhaps fatally so." - Brooke Allen, The New Criterion

  • "McEwan is left with only his fine eye for detail and the familiar staccato style that holds the attention but fails to move. Amsterdam is certainly readable, but readability may be precisely McEwan's great failing." - Stuart Burrows, New Statesman

  • "(F)unnier than anything McEwan has written before, though just as lethal." - Gabrielle Annan, The New York Review of Books

  • "(McEwan)'s undone, in the end, by his own exquisite craftsmanship: Instead of betraying his structure, he betrays his book." - Craig Seligman, Salon

  • "McEwan is a master of evenpaced nightmare. Amsterdam is little more than a brief bad dream." - Anita Brookner, The Spectator

  • "Never mind the width, feel the quality. McEwan miraculously creates an effect of spaciousness within his miniature dimensions. It is a watchmaker's art." - John Sutherland, The Sunday Times

  • "Yet McEwan, almost alone among modern British writers, continues to dissect contemporary morality with the ruthlessness of a child pulling the wings off a butterfly." - Jason Cowley, The Times

  • "(U)nashamedly a five-finger exercise in comparison to the aspirations of some of McEwan's earlier work (…..) There is something rather comfortable about it, which extends to the satire. (…) Amsterdam is a consummately well-orchestrated performance, and the feel of a major artist operating at something less than full blast gives it a smoothness and a sense of capacity in reserve." - Phil Baker< Times Literary Supplement

  • "Amsterdam winds up unsettled rather than unsettling. Let's hope that Amsterdam isn't the model for the Euro-novel of the future, for it is a book in a tremendous hurry to get where it is going -- but one with no real destination." - Paul Elie, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ian McEwan wields a pen deftly. He writes simply, yet expresses himself well. His books are true page turners, as the reader is drawn in by McEwan's style. Regrettably ambition too often gets the better of him as he foists unlikely or even absurd plots on this fine framework of well-wrought writing.
       It hardly needs be said any more, after so many books, but yet again McEwan has found a story that is too much for him. In this one the friend and former lover of a composer, Clive Linley, and a newspaper editor, Vernon Halliday, descends with frightening speed into mental decay, losing her mind before she even realizes it and then quickly dying. Frightened by this Clive and Vern make a pact of sorts that should they ever show signs of the onset of such an illness the other would mercifully cut short their lives. The Amsterdam of the title, is of course, one of the places where such selective euthanasia is, perhaps, tolerated, and needless to say that is where the novel will wind up.
       At the beginning of the book Clive, the most renowned classical composer in England, is composing a "Millennial Symphony", though he is having trouble with it. Vern is editor of a troubled newspaper. Each is then put in a position where they must make a moral choice, of sorts, one possibility being to do the so-called right thing, the other to think basically only of themselves. Both choose their own advancement, and at first the decisions seem to be the correct ones. Here McEwan is almost on the right track, effectively showing their illusionary rise before the grand fall.
       Many of the details are unlikely-seeming, but they can be accepted. The ignominious fall and failure of the two also seems an appropriate come uppance. Unfortunately, McEwan feels the need to do more, and so he sends them to Amsterdam, with predictable results. It is an ending that is astonishingly bad, and not even McEwan seems fully convinced of what he is doing.

       It is a slight book, and most of it is fun to read. For those who are satisfied with endings that see justice done and round off a book, regardless of how ridiculous the means employed to do so are, it is a decent enough book. (Readers who have previously enjoyed McEwan's books and did not mind similar absurd plotlines, as in Enduring Love, should also enjoy this.) We wish McEwan would not try so hard, sticking to his talents and not losing them in absurd and oversimplified plotlines.

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Amsterdam: Reviews: Ian McEwan: Other books by Ian McEwan under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Ian McEwan is the author of many fine novels. He won the Booker Prize for Amsterdam in 1998.

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