Colin wheeled around on her, incredulous, exasperated. “That wasn’t our first day,” he said loudly. “Now you’re completely confused It was seeing the queue that made us decide to go to the beach, and we didn’t go there till the third day.” Colin had stopped to say this, but Mary kept on walking. He caught up with her in skipping steps.“It might have been the third day,” she was saying as though to herself, “but this is where we were.” She pointed at a doorway several yards ahead and, as if summoned, a squat figure stepped out of the dark into a pool of street light and stood blocking their path.”
I have only known McEwan’s work through Atonement, Saturday, and On Chesil Beach. In that order. With each successive read, however, I was less impressed. Still, I opened The Comfort of Strangers for the Venice in February Challenge; largely, perhaps, due to the cover on the Vintage edition.
This little book, only 127 pages, was written in 1981. Long before McEwan’s fame was firmly established. I find very little in it reminiscent of anything he’s written before, but quite a lot of this novel is on a parallel with Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now.
An unmarried couple, Colin and Mary to be precise, are vacationing in Venice. They seem rather malcontent with each other, the whole relationship rather humdrum, until one evening a stranger steps out of a darkened doorway and beckons to them. After a lurid evening spent together, Colin and Mary are eager to escape his presence.
They leave with what seemed to be a lucky chance, and find themselves insatiable for one another. All they can do is sleep together, over and over, and then? They go back to the stranger’s home with disastrous results.
The Comfort of Strangers is actually anything but comfort. It is a shocking psychological novel which even now I can’t say that I liked. It isn’t the sort of novel one likes. It’s the sort of novel which nestles into one’s mind and stirs up questions. Questions which might have different answers depending on the reader.