A 1998 booker prize winner that was recommended to me by a friend calling it edgy and moralistic. I sure wasn’t disappointed. Amsterdam is powerful and complex in story and has also been written very skillfully. Its about two friends, who share a common previous lover, and their moral conflict of ethics and loyalty. Turmoil and Dilemma have never been written better.
Although the name suggests that there would be a major part of Amsterdam to play in the tone and mood of the novel. But, it isn’t. It is set in present day London for most part of it and the protagonists travel to Amsterdam for the climax (a mind-boggling one) yielding it to grab the title of the novel. There aren’t any panoramic cityscape descriptions probably to not take away from the intensity of emotions of the characters. Intimate settings and more private spaces have been wonderfully explored in all their glory and detail apart from which there are these few public spaces that have been captured very well.
Vernon Halliday’s newspaper office is one interesting place. The authoritarian in him exudes control over everyone and everything. His chair was empty; he was finely dissolved throughout the building, from the city desk on the fifth floor, …,to the basement.
The author has regularly taken cues from the setting to leave an impression on the moods of the characters. As the other protagonist Clive Linley takes the train out of London to the Lake District, he crosses fields and rivers and barren land that has at places been marred by human concrete buildings and roads. He feels that the human project has been a failure from the very beginning.
Following a trail at the Lake District Park where he has come to take inspiration for the last piece of his symphony, Peering over the top of the slab, which jutted up over a thirty-foot drop, he found himself looking down a miniature tarn, hardly bigger than a large puddle. Standing on the grass that fringed it on its far side was the woman he had seen hurrying past, the woman in blue. Also standing with her was this other man looking advantageous.
The moral dilemma of helping a struggling lady rather than writing these symphony notes that he’ll forget very soon further gets intensified because of the physical distance between the two. Surely, one of my favorite passages from the book because of its visual thrust using just words.
‘As Clive edged around the loud bass section, … he avoided the basses, who already seemed drunk in competition with the tympani. At last he attained the tempered sodality of the violins, who had permitted flutes and piccolo to join them.’ the orchestra members at the party, delightful description.
Even though the book may be missing the broader, zoomed out views of London, the grayness of it has been captured at various points successfully, setting the tone of the story right. And don’t miss it for just the ending …..It’s worth the effort.