Normally I would argue that a Booker Prize winning novel (or even finalist) would be a pretty decent yardstick for the oeuvre of an author, a good place to start. But having read “On Chesil Beach” and “Black Dogs”, I have to say Ian McEwan’s “Amsterdam” is far from that. Indeed, had I read “Amsterdam” first I might have just stopped there.
The book is strangely old-fashioned and reminded me of S.P.Snow or Anthony Powell – nothing wrong with that per se, but not if you’re expecting the author of “Black Dogs”. Oddly, “Amsterdam” was McEwan’s eight novel and written six years after “Black Dogs”, so the stylistic shift must have been deliberate and one which I find frankly bizarre.
The book is still very readable; indeed, you could probably devour it in a single session, and is not ‘bad’ in any meaningful sense – except perhaps the ending which, for me, was vaguely laughable.
Maybe 1998 wasn’t a great vintage, but I’m stunned “Amsterdam” won the Booker.
In any event, if you’re thinking of reading McEwan – and you should – then I respectfully suggest you don’t start with “Amsterdam”…
I have “Machines Like Me” sitting on my ‘to read’ pile and am still looking forward to that – though possibly now slightly less certain what I’m going to discover in it.