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Amsterdam - Ian McEwan With funerals as an arching motif, great humor, and unnatural deaths, this longish novella is as if written by Agatha Christie after a crash course on writing with Poe and having drunk just enough with Roberto Bolaño.

“Such a tolerant, openminded, and grown-up sort of place”—such is the way McEwan describes the city of Amsterdam, and such is the way I’d describe the novel, Amsterdam—a story of mature friendships made vulnerable by differing views of tolerance and openmindedness and the growing realization that the two protagonists had not known each other as well as their long friendship might suggest. The novel speaks to maturity and human faults, friendships jeopardized by experience, loyalty, memory, civic obligation—themes that may not address the concerns of every reader.

Amsterdam is well-crafted—every detail serves a purpose and reveals its place in the narrative—all the pieces fit together perfectly. In fact, the novel is so tightly crafted, it reads like the best of short stories and lends itself to a very quick reading, and from which, it gains. Each character’s character is rendered up gradually, informing the reader as each protagonist’s personal character is realized by the other. Splendid.

Why only four stars? Why not five? I’m not sure. It’s not my favorite McEwan, even though I like it quite a lot. Possibly because I liked Atonement so much more. The novels are so different, it’s as though they weren’t written by the same author. Most likely, the fault is mine and due to my own expectations.

I’m reminded of a beleaguered Joni Mitchell on a live recording (Miles of Aisles) who, between songs and amid shouts for particular songs to be played next (requests for popular favorites she’s probably heard thousands of times), laments, [and I’m paraphrasing here]:

“You know, a painter does a painting, and that’s it. He hangs it in a loft somewhere, and maybe somebody buys it or no one buys it…but…you know? No one ever asks Van Gogh ‘Hey, paint a Starry Night again, man. He did it and that was it.’” Then she laughs.

Have fun with Amsterdam. Laugh along with it. I think it was part of McEwan’s goal, and the humor is there for the taking.