Going Dutch

Michelle Barnes

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Amsterdam
By Ian McEwan
Nan A. Talese/ Doubleday, 193 pp., $21
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Clive seems to embody the serious artist in an age of arts councils and literary thrillers— aspiring to greatness and permanence, but with one eye on the headlines and the other on the market. McEwan keeps the reader guessing about Clive— genius, or fake?— until the end. Then he undoes the book. Suddenly Clive and Vernon are dead— each man, unbelievably, kept his promise— and Clive's "Millennial Symphony" is declared a dud. Satire overwhelms realism, plot outruns character and theme reducing Amsterdamto little more than a higher airplane read. Why did McEwan do it? Maybe the euthanasia twist is his idea of an artistic surprise that will guarantee his novel's originality. Or it is his solution to the problem of serious art: you may express your yearnings for artistic grandeur, as long as you deflate them as pretensions in the end. In any case, Amsterdamwinds up unsettled rather than unsettling. Let's hope that Amsterdamisn't the model for the Euro-novel of the future, for it is a book in a tremendous hurry to get where it is going— but one with no real destination.

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