The Light of Amsterdam by David Park


The enthusiasm of KevinfromCanada and Reading Matters led me to The Light of Amsterdam.  The three stories we hear are about individuals from Belfast who independently go to Amsterdam for a weekend and intersect very little.

Karen is a single mother in her early 40s whose defining moment was her abandonment when she was pregnant by her boyfriend.  She devoted her life to filling her daughter's every need and when we meet them, she is working two menial jobs and has saved up enough to give her the marriage Shannon wants.  Shannon has planned a hen party (a new one on me) in Amsterdam which involves much drinking and begins with her friends and mother dressing as Indians, Native Americans, actually for the flight over.  Karen has closed herself off to all connections outside Shannon.  

Marion and her husband own a nursery to which they have devoted their lives; she is in her mid-50s now and is thrown for a loop when her attractive gregarious husband gives her the present of a gym membership.  She becomes convinced that he will take up with Anka, one of the Polish women who work for them, especially when he suggests they set her up in a flower shop.  He has arranged a weekend in Amsterdam just as her crazy ideas are driving her to take drastic measures.

Alan teaches art at a college without enthusiasm and is learning to cope with the end of his marriage which occurred when he confessed a brief affair; Susan appeared to be relieved to find a reason to end the marriage.  He has much contact with her as their teenage son Jack spirals down after the divorce.  Alan expresses the heart of this book early on in this passage:

He glanced at Jack who was waiting for some homily that wasn't coming.  The advantage was momentarily with him and knowing that in this game, intensity or passion were the illegitimate children of commitment, he tried to project a sense of casual indifference.  It wasn't easy because he knew that sooner or later love would blow it out of the water.  Love was the unavoidable spanner in the works, the thing that stopped you walking away and made your pretence of calm control a hopeless lie…."

The weekend trip for Alan and Jack, Karen and the hen party, and Marion and Paul intensifies each of their problems and is the backdrop as they confront the unavoidable.  The stories are lovingly and beautifully told and I found each of them compelling.  David Park is pleasingly introspective and The Light of Amsterdam has a nice balance between realism and a satisfying resolution. 

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