Written almost a decade apart, these two short novels— Amsterdam (1998) and On Chesil Beach (2007)—have a number of things in common despite their very different subjects and generic styles. Both focus on a small number of characters engaged in tightly formed relationships that lead to intense dramatic action and climactic endings; in fact, each is constructed in five clear sections or “acts”, with, as Peter Childs notes about Amsterdam, “the rhythm of a play and the feel of a script in the making” (2006: 118). In an interview, McEwan said that he hoped his readers would enjoy “almost a kind of theatrical experience” (Bold Type Interview), a statement that could easily be extended to On Chesil Beach, which has also been described as being like a musical composition in five movements (Out of the Book). Amsterdam, “part psychological novel and part social satire” (Malcolm 194), centers on an escalating conflict between two friends who reunite at the funeral of mutual former lover and end up murdering one another: Clive Linley, a composer, and Vernon Halliday, a tabloid editor, both of whom are ruthlessly self-promoting. In a scene rife with allusions to the Romantic period with its reverence for the male poetic genius, Clive puts his own artistic success above human life by ignoring a woman about to be raped.
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