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The Comfort of Strangers (Ian McEwan Series Book 3) [Kindle Edition]

Ian McEwan
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Colin and Mary are lovers on holiday in Italy, their relationship becoming increasingly problematic as they become increasingly alienated from one and other. They move from place to place in this foreign land but seemingly without aim or purpose and more, seemingly bored and without attachment.

Then they meet a man named Robert and his wife, Caroline, who is crippled. Colin and Mary seem happy for the diversion--happy to meet another couple that takes the focus of off them (off of each other) for a while. Things become strange (and stranger yet; one could say horrific) when they attempt to leave: Robert and Caroline insist that they stay with them for a while longer.

While Mary and Colin indeed rediscover each other in ways during this time--an erotic attraction to each other that was below the surface--they also find that their relationship/friendship with Robert and Caroline takes turns that are likewise erotic and violent in nature. A pervasive dread runs through this novel, leading to the terrible climax that no reader could predict. Absolutely in the key of McEwan, without match in the genre, and a very worthwhile read.


First Love, Last Rites was McEwan's first published book and is a collection of short stories that in 1976 won the Somerset Maugham Award. A second volume of his work appeared in 1978. These stories--claustrophobic tales of childhood, deviant sexuality and disjointed family life--were remarkable for their formal experimentation and controlled narrative voice. McEwan's first novel, The Cement Garden (1978), is the story of four orphaned children living alone after the death of both parents. To avoid being taken into custody, they bury their mother in the cement of the basement and attempt to carry on life as normally as possible. Soon, an incestuous relationship develops between the two oldest children as they seek to emulate their parents roles. The Cement Garden was followed by The Comfort of Strangers (1981), set in Venice, a tale of fantasy, violence, and obsession. The Child in Time (1987) won the Whitbread Novel Award and marked a new confidence in McEwan's writing. The story revolves around the devastating effects of the loss of a child through child abduction. Readers may know McEwan's work through these and other books, or more recently through his novel, Atonement, which was made into a major motion picture.


Rosetta presents modern classics from groundbreaking author Ian McEwan, author of Atonement and First Love, Last Rites (among others) in a special collection that offers readers the full-range of McEwan's smart, savvy, and engaging prose.

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Editorial Reviews


"As the best young writer on this island, McEwan's evocations of feeling and place and his analysis of mood and relationship remain haunting and compelling."—The Times

"As always, McEwan manages his own idiom with remarkable grace and inventiveness; his characters are at home in their dreams, and so is he."—Guardian

"His writing is exact, tender, funny, voluptuous, disturbing."—The Times

"The Maestro."—New Statesman

"McEwan has—a style and a vision of life of his own...No one interested in the state and mood of contemporary Britain can afford not to read him."—John Fowles

"A sparkling and adventurous writer."—Dennis Potter

“Haunting and compelling.” –The Times

“McEwan, that master of the taciturn macabre, so organizes his narrative that, without insisting anything, every turn and glimpse is another tightening of the noose. The evils of power and the power of evil are transmitted with a steely coolness, and in a prose that has a feline grace.” –Observer

From the Trade Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

As their holiday unfolds, Colin and Maria are locked into their own intimacy. They groom themselves meticulously, as though someone is waiting for them who cares deeply about how they appear. When they meet a man with a disturbing story to tell, they become drawn into a fantasy of violence and obsession.

Product Details

  • File Size: 214 KB
  • Print Length: 130 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0679749845
  • Publisher: RosettaBooks (February 8, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004N3AZAA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,896 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
155 of 173 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Toe-curlingly embarrassing October 10, 2010
I have been a great fan of Ian McEwan's novels for many years and I came across The Comfort of Strangers completely unaware that it was one of his early efforts. I started it full of the expectation which I naturally reserve for a favourite writer.

I hadn't got far into it before the alarm bells started ringing.

Quick plot summary. Two very strange and stupid people go on holiday and meet two lunatics who do really horrible things to them for no apparent reason.

Colin and Mary are on holiday in Venice. For some bizarre reason the name of the city is never mentioned, and given that there is literally nowhere else on this earth that it could possibly be, it comes across as a particularly pompous literary device. Anyway, Colin and Mary are not speaking and we never find out why. They are preparing for their ritual evening of cocktails followed by dinner. They seem vague, detached, disinterested and bored. At the time I thought that this could be interesting as there is so much not said but having waded through this turgid tome I don't feel it's much of spoiler to advise you not to hold your breath.

Well, anyway, for no apparent reason they suddenly forgive each other and decide to make love (and what a lacklustre event this is - indeed, describing their love-making in general the author informs us that they quite often nod off in the middle of a session) which delays their plans for the evening. Now here the author would have us believe that all the restaurants in one of the top tourist destinations in the world are closed by 9pm. Colin and Mary know this too but they go out anyway. They have been lost many times before but they don't take the maps. (What?) And what happens? Yes, they get lost!
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77 of 86 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark, dangerous, twisted February 18, 2003
This is probably the most effective horror novel I've ever read. Not that there are demons, monsers, or flying body bits, but in that it lays bare some truly horrifying facets of human nature, and what they can cause people to do. It's haunting and not for the timid. Or the weak of stomach.
Colin and Mary are lovers on vacation in Italy, increasingly bored and uninterested in one another. They amble around hotels and tourist streets without any genuine interest. Then they accidently bump into Robert, a seemingly friendly man with an unhappy family history and an initially harmless attachment to the couple.
From there, Colin and Mary stay with Robert and his crippled wife Caroline, who seems friendly but oddly insistent that they stay for awhile. Colin and Mary rediscover their physical attraction to one another, but they also are increasingly uneasy with the forceful friendship of Robert and Carllin. And soon that friendship is revealed as terrible, erotic, and violent.
Ian McEwan's books remind me of those movies where the skies are cloudy, the alleys are dank, and everybody is hiding secret motives. There is a sort of dark aura from the beginning on the book onward, as if tragedy is creeping up from page one onward. Despite this gradual buildup, and the increasingly horrific life stories that Robert and Caroline tell, the climax is a horrible shock.
McEwan's writing swings freely between oddly dreamlike and shockingly vivid -- if anything, the vividity of his writing is more so because the weird stuff is written in such poetic prose. His dialogue is mostly good, except when the characters launch into philosophical ramblings about women and men and whether women want to be dominated.
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39 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Early McEwan June 10, 2003
Many of the trademarks we have come to expect in McEwan novels are already here in this early novel published in the U. S. in 1981, the ironic title, the complexity, the psychological tension, the ambiguities, the questions left unanswered. I was handicapped in reading this novel in that I had already seen the movie so it was impossible not to see Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson getting lost in those maze-like alleys in Venice. (Nowhere in this slim novel, however, does McEwan name the city where the sinister action takes place.} On the other hand, since I knew the outcome, I could look for and admire the clues the author gives as to what will happen. McEwan does an excellent job of setting the tone for what ultimately occurs early in the novel. As early as page 17: "Colin and Mary had never left the hotel so late, and Mary was to attribute much of what followed to this fact." There are lots of references to the sexual tension between men and women in addition to many homoerotic allusions throughout the book that prepare you, at least in part, for the shattering climax of this horrific little novel.
McEwan always gives the reader a story that appeals both to the intellect and the emotions. As usual, he doesn't disappoint us. One of the joys of living in these times is awaiting a new McEwan novel.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful but Weird August 26, 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
McEwan is a wonderful descriptive writer. For example: "In one direction, the street vanished into total darkness; in the other, a diffused blue-gray light was making visible a series of low buildings which descended like blocks cut in granite and converged in the gloom where the street curved away. Thousands of feet above, an attenuated finger of cloud pointed across the line of the curve and reddened. A cool, salty wind blew along the street and stirred a cellophane wrapper against the step on which Colin and Mary were sitting."
In my opinion, McEwan's goal in "The Comfort of Strangers" is to exercise his marvelous descriptive powers, which truly allow the reader to see and feel the experiences of Colin and Mary, his primary characters. At the same time, this descriptive power seems complete, in and of itself, and makes it unnecessary for McEwan to have much of a story. Indeed, his plot might be summed up as two disorganized people not really connecting, on their vacation.
For me, this book was an intense and pleasurable read, with its prose as exacting and suggestive as fine poetry. This, perhaps, explains why the book's ending seems arbitrary and contrived. The book, after all, is not about plot but about the power of great writing to capture experience. At the book's climax, my marginalia say "What?!" Read "The Comfort of Strangers" and see what I mean.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars McEwan's a master of character in the midst of a gray plot.
Even after a second reading of Ian McEwan's second novel, 'The Comfort of Strangers' (1981), I dislike the book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Adean van Dyk
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing yet skillful
Warning- detailed summary gives away the plot

Mary and Collin, an unmarried couple of seven years on vacation, go to a city, which from the descriptions is Venice. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Joy Cagil
4.0 out of 5 stars Wanting more
McEwan uses his psychological acumen to skillfully investigate a "normal" couple, their relationship stuck in boredom that comes from longevity, as they become attracted to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Estelle h
5.0 out of 5 stars always good
love all of McEwan

I borrowed this for the library and didn't get it from you. I initially incorecclly pushed a button and you subsequently cancelled the order.
Published 3 months ago by deborah thieriot
1.0 out of 5 stars Bill
This is the 6th novel of Mr McEwan I have read. I enjoyed the others immensely ! This sucked! I want my money back, if anyone cares to refund it!
Published 3 months ago by Bill
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast, cheap, good
Fast delivery, good quality and good price. It was everything I was looking for, the product met all my expectations.
Published 3 months ago by Maria E Azagra
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking for a "gateway" McEwan, but still quite a bite
So I thought I would try this as a way to try out McEwan in a smaller dose than his more prominent novels. But wow! The first story is probably the most disturbing. Read more
Published 6 months ago by jsarver
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful
I am a fan of Ian McEwan. I loved Saturday, Sweet Tooth and enjoyed Chesil Beach. But surely In the Company of Strangers is some sort of writing exercise, akin to a quick sketch... Read more
Published 6 months ago by ozzy mandias
'The Comfort of Strangers' (1981), by the British author Ian McEwan is a fascinating psychological and short crime novel about a contemporary young English couple on a brief... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Pippin O' Rohan
3.0 out of 5 stars Honestly expected more
I enjoy a good Ian McEwan novel, but this one just felt a bit flat, but I think that was what he was going for with the characters he had on this one.
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
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More About the Author

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children's novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His other award-winning novels are The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, and Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize.

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