1980s Booker Prize

Comfort of Strangers – Ian McEwan

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?!