24 December 2007

Ian McEwan, The Comfort of Strangers, 1981

The Comfort of Strangers captures perfectly the almost gothic, spiking sense of unease for which McEwan has become famous. Set in Venice, the English holidaymakers Colin and Mary encounter the dangerous Robert and his genteel wife Caroline. I found Colin and Mary’s initial emotional distance from each other to be brilliantly done, as if McEwan is somehow able to draw the spaces between them, and the way they then get closer to each other after their first encounter with the sadistic Robert becomes the emotional heart of the story before they’re then drawn back to Robert’s dangerous mind games like moths to a flame. Robert has an unsettling combination of sheer mysogyny and power that overwhelms all other characters; the way in which McEwan takes the wraps off Robert’s concealed evil, and by simply discarding all he has created for Colin and Mary, is genuinely unsettling.   PY


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