The Comfort of Strangers

December 21, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

strangersThe Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

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This isn’t the kind of book I would normally read, but I stumbled across it twice in The Book of Lists: Horror when authors listed books that weren’t classified as horror, but may as well have been. Having read it, I can see why: it’s a stark look at sexual obsession and how it affects people. It takes a while to get to the central issue of the novel, but even as McEwan is setting up the story, we get a sense of things being not quite right.

Colin and Mary are a couple vacationing in Venice, and their relationship is strained. A chance encounter with an expatriate from London puts them back on track, but that encounter leads them down dark roads that ultimately end in tragedy. In relation to other works of horror, it feels a little tame, but for a book that’s well within the literary canon, it shows a darkness its contemporaries tend to avoid.

McEwan does a great job capturing the setting and the main characters in the first chapter. His style is crisp and precise. In addition, he captures the relationship between them, which is arguably more important than the characters themselves. They and the secondary characters in the novel are drawn a little thin, but I feel like this is intentional; the book is more about relationships and how we let them define us, so it makes more sense to focus more on what exists between the characters rather than the characters themselves.

This is an unusual book, in that it might be darker than readers of literary fiction would like, but it doesn’t feel dark enough for casual readers of horror. For readers who like examinations into the darker side of humanity, though, it’s a perfect fit. It’s not a favorite among dedicated readers of the author, but as an introduction to him, it stands as a strong work. I understand he has a few other novels that perform dark examinations like this one, and I’ll have to add those to my list of books to read.

Started: September 17, 2017
Finished: September 17, 2017

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