Volume 93, Issue 4

Friday, June 4, 1999


Pat O'Callaghan croons a sultry song

Performances in Notting Hill make it worth visiting

Catatonia equally good and frustrating

Thirteenth Floor brings bad luck

Amsterdam takes you on a trip to the dark side

Rosie should practice what she preaches

Amsterdam takes you on a trip to the dark side

By Ian McEwan
Vintage Canada
178 pgs/$16.95

Anyone who has ever been to Amsterdam would find it hard not to be magnetically pulled to a book bearing the city's name.

The mere mention of this country conjures up images of smoke-filled cafes replete with seedy characters – perfect ingredients for any tale, fiction or non.

Some people may be drawn to reading Ian McEwan's latest novel, last year's Booker Prize winner, solely because they anticipate a story wrapped in the charms of the world's most liberal city. Instead readers will find a sordid satire of modern institutions and values, set amidst a background of promiscuous sex, cross-dressing politicians and whole heap of betrayal.

The story, set in modern day Britain, chronicles the lives of three men who find themselves exquisitely tangled in each other's businesses following the death of a common lover. Traversing the thin line of morality the tale's two protagonists, a struggling artist and a newspaper editor, are deftly crafted and well cultivated.

With quick and clever twists of plot jolting you awake from the sometimes long and drawn out passages of character development, Amsterdam is a cross between a Monty Python sketch and Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. As required by any dark comedy for success, the book possesses the meticulous attention to subplots which cleverly interlock with the waning of the story.

McEwan has an uncanny knack for relaying the adversarial nuances of hostile conversation. Blunt diatribes and skillfully worded narratives provide for a quick read and a host of guttural "oohs" accompanying the page-turner.

Amsterdam's comedic element is definitely on the intellectual side. Typical of British wit, its cynical slant on a politically correct world will make you snicker. John Cleese himself would be proud.

All in all, McEwan's unparalleled grasp of the English language which earned praise for past novels like The Ploughman's Lunch and The Cement Garden follows suit in Amsterdam.

–Paul-Mark Rendon

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Copyright The Gazette 1999