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The Comfort of Strangers Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Vintage International ed edition (November 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679749845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679749844
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 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.

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.

Customer Reviews

I'm a big Ian McEwan fan.
K. Suzanne Olson
This story was very strange, character development was weak, and the ending was a complete letdown that made no sense at all.
Nuclear Girl
Not the type of book I want to read, dont like the ending much.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

150 of 168 people found the following review helpful By Scott Hannigan on October 10, 2010
Format: Paperback
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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76 of 85 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
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 By H. F. Corbin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Cooper VINE VOICE on 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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