Comfort of Strangers – Ian McEwan

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The Comfort of Strangers was short listed for the Booker prize in 1981. It is the second Ian McEwan book I have read, and I’m afraid it is in the same ‘very average’ league as Amsterdam.

It begins with a couple on holiday, in an unnamed city (although it is assumed to be Venice by many people). They are trying to revive the passion in their relationship, but for much of the time they are cold and distant with each other. After a few days they meet Robert in a bar. He invites them back  to his home, and despite many warning signs, the couple end up in grave danger.

I had many problems with this book; the characters just seem too distant, the plot too simple and contrived, and many aspects of the book highly implausible.

The book deals with many taboo subjects, including incest and dometic violence, but although many of the events described in the book were potentially shocking, I felt no disgust, as I hadn’t built up any relationship with the characters.

The couple, Colin and Mary, irritated me with their naivety. They return to Robert’s house despite their reservations, and the brutal ending seemed obvious.

I felt that McEwan had deliberately picked controversial topics for the book, and forced as many as possible into such a small number of pages that they were almost glossed over. There was no time to investigate any of them properly, and so I didn’t really see the point of them being there.

Overall, I was very disappointed with this book. Will I ever find an Ian McEwan book I like? Are all his characters distant and slightly stupid?!

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6 Comments

  1. Michelle says:

    I have a weird relationship with McEwan’s books. I keep going back to them even though there is so much I don’t like.

  2. Beth F says:

    I’ll be honest here. I didn’t read past the first paragraph (yet). I hated Amsterdam — just boring and stupid if you ask me. And I didn’t like the movie Atonement. I thought I was the only person alive who didn’t like McEwan. Thank you. Now I’ll go read the rest of your post.

  3. Sandy says:

    You know, McEwan is interesting this way. He is so polarizing. I’ve read On Chesil Beach and Saturday. Both were very subtle. I had an extremely hard time getting through Saturday, despite rave reviews. I thought I’d missed the boat. I guess I didn’t dislike it, and after I’d posted my review, a few bloggers gave me some insight that helped me appreciate the work. Still…I’m not sure reading should take this much effort!

  4. I read this for the Booker yahoo group, and it is interesting to read all the analysis for it, but I think all books could be analysed in the same way.

    I read for pleasure, and I’m afraid Ian McEwans books just don’t give me any!

  5. Melody says:

    I’ve not read this book, but I read Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach and didn’t really enjoy them. I think Atonement is my favourite thus far.

  6. Simon S says:

    Oh I quite liked Amsterdam, I thought it was very surreal and quite a melodramatic story but kind of great. I have read a few and The Cement Garden is good but very dark, I love Atonement and On Chesil Beach I think is a marvellous book. Child in Time and Enduring Love are meant to be good but havent read those yet. The Innocent is another I have read and quite liked though found some of the underground bits confusing.

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