“You can spin stories out of the ways people understand and misunderstand each other.” – Ian McEwan
The more of Ian McEwan’s work that I read, the more convinced I become that when I started with Atonement, I started with his best work. The Comfort of Strangers took me two tries a year apart to get past the first chapter. Colin and Mary are on vacation in an unspecified ancient city and don’t appear to be enjoying themselves too much. They’re not quite connecting. They keep getting lost on their wanderings and the frustration is building with more than a week left of their holiday. One night a local man named Robert helps the lost pair, taking them to his bar where he tells them stories about his childhood. Coming across them again the next day, he invites them to dinner at his home with his wife, Caroline. Though Mary and Colin aren’t quite sure what to make of Robert and Caroline, they politely accept the couple’s hospitality. The experience seems to open the flow of communication between Mary and Colin for the rest of their vacation. Of course, in the end it turns out those odd, uncomfortable feelings were more than justified.
There wasn’t much I found to really hold onto in this story. Mary is an overt feminist and those few conversations where women’s rights arise were the parts I found most engaging. The twist at the end didn’t feel particularly genuine; Mary and Colin are impulsive but I can’t help feeling that some of their behavior was tweaked according to the laws of horror films (in which everyone does the exact thing any real person would know instinctively not to do). I wasn’t sorry for this book to end. I have higher hopes for the other McEwan novels on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.
(And I just found out it was adapted into a film with Christopher Walken, Helen Mirren, Natasha Richardson, and Rupert Everett in the early 90s; not sure what to make of this new information.)