"Amsterdam" by Ian McEwan

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Two old friends fall spectacularly out in Amsterdam; it forms the plot of this Booker Prize-winning novel, and it makes an intriguing read, even if getting its lessons takes something out of you.

Clive is a renowned composer working desperately to meet a deadline on a commissioned piece. Vernon edits a well-respected daily newspaper, on the verge of publishing a stunning front-page piece to ruin a prominent national politician. Author Ian McEwan achieves his best effects when describing the settings, processes, and personal anxieties of these two men on the eve of what could be the crowning achievements of their respective careers. Instead, they reach loggerheads on some matters of principle, and each falls back on petty jealousy, egomania, and paranoia, to his emphatic downfall.

I’ve seen the book described as “darkly comic,” and while I agree, I would stress that Mr. McEwan intends to steep his readers not only in the unpleasant realities of a relationship gone bad, but also in the ghastly reality of modern society’s culture of self-absorption and moral turpitude. It’s easy to convince oneself that the book received the Booker based on this fact alone. It’s a good reason.

As solid a job as this is, I found the reading a little disturbing - too close to modern societal sickness for comfort. That is exactly what this book is about, and its message hits home extremely effectively.

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