Ian McEwan writes like no one else. As his newest novel Amsterdam shows, McEwan holds few peers. Amsterdam, winner of the 1998 Booker Prize, deconstructs civility in a story where fate and the dark side of human nature seep through the cracks of an already fragile friendship. Out of the tangle of two men's lives, McEwan weaves a tantalizing story about hatred and revenge. Amazingly lucid prose aside, the power of Amsterdam lies in McEwan's devilishly clever narrative plan. He somehow manages to draw suspense out of two men's professional and personnel breakdowns, revealing a twisted horror story lurking underneath a tale seemingly meant to address undying friendship and love.
As the novel begins, two old friends, Vernon Halliday and Clive Linley, meet at the funeral of Molly Lane, a woman whom each has know as a lover at different stages of life. McEwan takes Molly's funeral as a chance to introduce us to the somewhat strained web of civilities that tie Vernon, a newspaper editor, and Clive, a composer, to each other. The weight of Molly's death now adds a new burden to a friendship that already sags from the vicissitudes of many years. Not everything is going well between the two.
By utilizing alternating chapters and dueling points of view, McEwan develops his study in friendship into a dark psychological portrait of descent. There is true genius not only in McEwan's plan for Clive's and Vernon's stories but also in their relationship to each other and to the plot. A wonderful kind of tension slowly builds between the chapters devoted to Clive and Vernon as each of their successive narratives comes to reflect on the life of their counterpart. McEwan's adroitness at characterization and his deftness at dialogue show through these astounding chapter-length psychological studies. As author, he handles the transitions between his two characters' view points with astounding stylistic assurance.
All in all, this relatively short novel supports great writing with a masterful narrative design. Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that Amsterdam bends toward the sinister in a world where friendships breed turmoil. With the death of a former lover casting shadows deep into each of their hearts, McEwan's protagonists discover sides to themselves that civility and personal honor cannot hide or serve.