Amsterdam by Ian McEwan - review by A S Byatt

A S Byatt

Shocker to the End



Jonathan Cape 160pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

I sometimes think there is a new interest in the well-made tales of the Edwardians. D J Taylor’s new novel, Trespass, acknowledges a debt to Tono-Bungay, and Alan Judd’s novella, The Devil’s Own Work, is a supernatural shocker which grew out of Judd’s work on Ford Madox Ford. Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam has much in common with Judd’s tale. It is short and sharp, an immoral morality told with gleeful detachment, a well-plotted story of plots which displays its own elegant structure as one of the pleasures offered to the reader. lt reminds me of Huxley and Chesterton - also of aspects of Henry James. Its Edwardian quality derives partly from the distance at which the narrator is operating - he is continually judicious, cool and detached - and partly from an overt delight in its own construction. This delight is not quite the same as McEwan’s earlier pleasure in postmodern surprises or teasing. It is full of gusto, straightforward, and delivers blow to the gut.

The story opens, conventionally, with the funeral of Molly, the wife of George, a pompous publisher. Molly, a Sixties free spirit, has declined into madness, pain and death with a terrible swiftness described in two pages: ‘Within weeks she was fumbling for the names of things. Parliament, chemistry, propeller, she

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