Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan

Book 10

This one is particularly spoiler-y. You have been warned.

I had extremely high hopes for Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam. Atonement was great, Saturday was even better. And Amsterdam’s press said things like “darkly comic”.

Molly Lane was a fabulous photographer-type that had lived this great life of art and love and lovers and blahblahblah. At some point in middle age, she is diagnosed with a disease that is never properly identified (although it sounds rather like Huntington’s), but her decline is rapid and she is mentally and physically helpless until she dies. The story opens with her funeral. In attendance are two of her former lovers, Clive and Vernon, that happen to be friends. And another lover. And her husband, George.

Is the husband’s name always George?

Early in the piece, Clive approaches Vernon with a request that basically amounts to, “If I ever end up like Molly, please put me out of my misery.” So they make a pact. The action continues as we follow these two men through their lives over the next weeks. And we wait for one of them to get sick, but knowing that is too easy a device for McEwan.

I also waited for the character of Molly to be fleshed out. How did she come to know and love these men? And then marry such a weasel? And maintain these friendships? While I was enjoying the build up, I was also woefully disappointed that this never materialized.

Then I hit it. The point in the story where you see where it is going and it is all about the plot and not about the characters or the language and it goes at a dead run.

Warning-warning-here is the spoiler!

George and Vernon have a couple of rows, each decides the other is crazy and they determined to “put him out of his misery”. Because that was the pact.


In the end, they are dead. It didn’t seem “darkly comic”, it seemed crazy. And sort of mean.

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