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July 22, 2009



Rose C.R., I loved reading your perspective on Amsterdam. I can see what you mean re: Clive having lost his musical ability and Vernon having his editorial career effectively ended. It's also true each agreed to kill the other should their lives become useless, which they basically were by losing their passions. But I thought the ending rushed, and as such I felt let down by the book as a whole. It does add to my perspective, though, reading your comments. Thanks for that. I may have rushed to judgment on this one, but I still question its Booker win. He's written better books.

Rose City Reader

I'm the outlier in this group. I think Amsterdam is brilliant -- including the ending. Yes, the ending sprang up pretty fast, but I think that was to try to keep it hidden. Once the final scene gets rolling, it becomes easier to see where it is going, so it has to happen pretty quickly.

But, to me, the ending was the only possible ending. Like all Shakespeare comedies ending up with everyone getting married and all Greek tragedies ending with people dying. The point isn't the ending itself, it's the elaborate dance that gets us there. I thought that watching the two men was liking watching a tango -- even though you know it will end with a spin and a flourish, the dance is mesmerizing and the end grand.

I'm not saying this well because I'm typing while I eat lunch. But the parallel stories of the two men delaminating could only end in tragedy, because McEwan peeled away everything in their lives that had any meaning for them. So it was either going to be a double suicide or, with a little twist, the ending McEwan wrote.


Carolyn, he writes like a dream. I'm so envious! And yes, at times even Amsterdam is lovely. It's just that ending ...


Mary, I have the feeling once a writer has achieved a certain status editors don't question their writing too much. Byatt and McEwan definitely fall into this category. Not that McEwan writes long books, because his are very tightly written, but I don't think his editors ask him for too many changes. Or if they do, I think he's free to say, "No way." I think that's a shame.

Mary Soderstrom

Amssterdam is a novel I have on my list to re-read this summer, because I want to see how he treats moments of musical inspiration for a project of my own. But your comments about the beautiful writing and wonderful moments put me in mind of the book I've just finished reading, A.S. Byatt's The Childen's Hour.

I read its 600+ pages in a few days which must say something about the force of its narrative, but I also was frustrated because so many, many good things were buried under summaries of the events of the day (the period is 1895 to the end of World War I) artistic theories and philosophy. Would that her editors had told Byatt to cut about 100 pages!

The question may be: at what point do you decide that the faults in a book over power the "pearls?"




I couldn't call to mind any of the specifics at this point, but I do remember having the same Huh? feeling at the end of Amsterdam. However, as you point out, the writing is well worth the trip along the way. I have read that the Booker award for Amsterdam was sort of a consolation prize for not winning other years. Still, there are pearls within Amsterdam that make it well worth reading, I think.

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