I rarely manage to read three novels by the same person, but Ian McEwan is now on my short list of thrice read authors. So far I've read Atonement, which was my favorite by far (go read it and bring your dictionary!), and On Chesil Beach.
Lest you be deceived, all McEwan novels are tragedies, but I've been used to tragic literature since high school since that was all we read (aside from Jurassic Park in biology and a Grisham after our AP exams were over)....so I bought Amsterdam eyes wide open.
Amsterdam is a novel about two men–Clive Linley, a famous composer, and Vernon Halliday, a newspaper editor, who in the process of mourning the loss of their former lover Molly Lane grapple with their own middle aged-ness and morality. Despite both having been romantically linked to Molly in the past, they are longstanding friends and both equally dislike Molly's widower as well as another of her former lovers the Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony. Yet in the weeks following Molly's death, both of these men become key players in Clive and Vernon's lives through a potential scandal that could bring down the Foreign secretary, their friendship, and both of their careers.
As Clive and Vernon struggle with how to deal with the scandal each falls on a different side which causes each to question their lengthy friendship and the decisions that have brought them to their current life stage...yet they tragically blind to their own faults. Although the characters never seem to realize it, they are horribly unconflicted about the decisions they make. McEwan points to the potential for regular people in positions of opportunity and power to perform unfathomably selfish acts while never acknowledging their own through inconsistent, underdeveloped moral standards. Clive and Vernon's relationship deteriorates as each character gets more vengeful culminating in an expected dark ending that feels like a moldy wet blanket on a rainy night. Amsterdam ends without any hope at all and that is a cautionary end to an already dark novel.