Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan (audio)

It's not unusual to feel slightly off kilter while traveling, especially in a foreign country. We eat more, we drink more, sleep patterns are altered, there may be a language barrier, and it's easy to get lost.

Such is the case for Colin and Mary. Wandering around an unnamed city late at night in search of an open restaurant, they are befriended by Robert, a stranger who takes them to an out-of-the-way bar. Initially they're happy to meet a native and visit an establishment frequented by locals, but a feeling of unease gradually grows. After a chance meeting the next morning (the couple got lost and never made it back to their hotel), Colin and Mary end up at Robert's home. Here the story becomes uncomfortable. The plot takes a turn toward the twisted and odd. I won't elaborate further, but be aware this psychological thriller is rife with sexual overtones. The cover illustration hints at a voyeuristic component to the relationship. Indeed, at times, I felt like an voyeur by simply listening.

Alex Jennings' narration is flawless. Although listening was not my first choice, I'm glad now there were no print copies available in the library system. A pervasive feeling of unease is, perhaps, even more palpable on audio.

I initially wondered at McEwan's failure to name the city, ostensibly Venice, but later decided it enhanced the mood. Leaving it unnamed accentuated the sense of disorientation.

The Comfort of Strangers (1981) was a gripping, yet disturbing book. Listening seemed to make it even more compelling. I was forewarned, but chose to proceed anyway. While not exactly a likable book,  it was very good.

My rating:

Chivers Audiobooks, 2001
3 hours 49 minutes


  1. Just yesterday I sat down at the library with another Ian McEvan book, Saturday. I didn't bring it home with me as I have so many other books to read right now, but I was struck by the richness of his writing. He indeed has a true gift. Your review of The Comfort of Strangers has me curious. I'd like to know what happens next,

  2. The cover from my book is very different to yours and so there is less warning as to it's content. May your next book be less eerie.

  3. Venice does seem to fit these eerie stories rather well. I'm not sure if I want to pick this one up or not.

  4. I have this personal notion that Venice is bright and vibrant, not eerie and odd. Although several have picked up The Comfort of Strangers for the Venice in February challenge, I'm having qualms about picking this one. Still, I want to learn about how the couple cope, what with me being also a traveler.

    New follower (by email),

  5. although I've only read one book by McEwan, I hadn't imagined he would venture down this type of plot. Very creepy sounding.

    PS--I hope you'll share more about Kafka's Soup. Came by to comment but saw the post had been deleted.

  6. Margot - McEwan is a rare talent. I've read three of his novels now and all have somewhat uncomfortable themes. I'm curious to see what the next book will hold.

    Joan Hunter Dunn - This was an older audio edition, but the cover was very telling. Truly a creepy novel!

    Carol - I'd definitely think twice before choosing this one. If you do, consider yourself warned.

    Nancy Cudis - My two selections for this challenge have both been rather dark and creepy. I read and reviewed A Thousand Days in Venice a couple years ago and the mood was very different. Thanks for subscribing!

    Trish - Creepy to the max! I'll be posting about Kafka's Soup for Weekend Cooking. I hit the publish button by mistake as I was editing :-(

  7. I'm starting to think that McEwan is the master of leaving things out intentionally that will really leave the reader with a sense of unease.

  8. Kisa - You've got that right! I have two more of his novels here (Amsterdam and Saturday) and wonder if I'll find the same thing.

  9. My only reading of McEwan is On Chesil Beach though I have Atonement on my reading challenge list.

    If I am correct, he can keep the story at a given setting and specific point-location and still have words to describe the events.

  10. I love McEwan's writing. Everything I've read of his so far has worked for me. Must read this one soon.

  11. Nan - I think you're right. Will be curious to see what you think of Atonement. It was my first McEwan novel and I've kept it on my shelf for a reread.

    Ti - This was written before McEwan was really famous, but still very well done. I have Amsterdam and Saturday on my shelf and hope to get to at least one of them later this year.

  12. Your review has definitely piqued my interest in this one. I haven't read any of McEwan so this might not be the first one to start with but a book that might make me feel uncomfortable but that I will still enjoy has me interested to say the least.

  13. Kathleen - You're right in thinking this may not be the best place to start with McEwan. I've enjoyed both Atonement (hope to reread) and On Chesil Beach. Either one would be a better choice, I think.

  14. I really liked your comments - I love McEwan, and look forward to this one.

  15. I like your comments. I love McEwan, and look forward to reading this one... when I'm in the mood for creepy.

    1. Julia - This is very definitely creepy... choose your time carefully!


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