This book was kind of awesome. The only reason I didn’t love it unreservedly is because Ian McEwan did what he usually does: introduce an element of WTF? mingled with EW!!
Amsterdam is a fairly compact novel that briefly follows the lives of two friends, Vernon Halliday, a newspaper editor, and Clive Linley, a well-known composer. The story begins at the funeral of Molly Lane, who’d had affairs with each of the men years ago. We also meet Julian Garmony, another of Molly’s previous lovers and currently Foreign Secretary.
Apparently, Molly died rather horribly of some sort of degenerative brain disease, and both men are terrified of being reduced to similarly helpless circumstances in the future. Clive goes so far as to ask Vernon if it ever comes to Clive being in a similar situation, will Vernon please put him on a plane to Amsterdam so he can have himself euthanized.
A bit macabre, but it gets better. Both men hate Julian Garmony, but when Vernon gets an opportunity to ruin him, Clive disagrees with his plans. This creates a rift between the friends, which is worsened when Vernon interferes with a situation Clive met while vacationing in the Lakes District. (He sees a possible crime being committed, but doesn’t report it.)
In the end, Vernon loses his job and reputation, not because of Clive, though he blames him anyway. The symphony Clive has been working on has been ruined as well, thanks to Vernon’s interference, he feels. Julian Garmony has been damaged, but not ruined.
By now, friendship has turned to hatred for both men, although they conceal it from each other. Clive’s new symphony is about to debut in Amsterdam, and he invites Vernon to the premiere. Both men have heard of a rogue outfit there that will euthanize your friends or family for a steep fee, only requiring one signature on some shady legal documents. Both men decide to utilize the service, and as the book ends, they both succeed, simultaneously.
That was my WTF and EW moment, all at once.
Very well done, and McEwan received a Booker Prize for this work. It sounds strange, considering the dark theme, but there was a great deal of ironic and black humor in this book. Except for the ending being, well, kind of horrible, I enjoyed it!