The Comfort of Strangers

Saturday 24th March

I have enjoyed every one of Ian McEwan’s books.  They are all quite different but equally amazing.  ‘The Cement Garden’, ‘The Innocents’ ‘Atonement’ ‘On Chesil Beach’ ‘Saturday’ ‘The Child In Time’ ‘Enduring Love’ ‘The Children’s Act’ ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Nutshell’ are ones I remember fondly, though there must be others.  But looking back I noticed a couple I had missed.

The Comfort of Strangers was one and I have just read it on Kindle.  Until the denouement it is really a book where nothing, or very little happens.  But this nothingness is described in such a way that you are riveted.  Ordinary scenes are described in great detail, much of which seems at first superfluous, but I am sure that every word has been pondered over.  It is all there for a purpose, and the purpose is both to lull you and to make you aware that this calm will soon be disturbed.  There is a barely perceptible element of threat hovering over the whole book.  So much is unexplained – we will never know why Mary and her husband split up, or why she and Colin are on holiday for a whole month in one place, or how they met, or why they are not living together.  It is as if the whole story, characters – the City (Venice I presume, {and incidentally the whole book has echoes of Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice}) have existed forever, timelessly in some sort of suspended animation, until like the Greek Gods, the author has pushed them, nudged them over the edge.  I read the book very quickly, much of it as I was waiting for Julia to come back from her surgery.  Maybe my febrile mood helped me read the book quickly.  And the ending comes as no surprise, from very early on you know that this holiday will not end well.

A brilliant book; indeed yet one more brilliant book from this author.