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The Comfort of Strangers Broché – 1981

3.0 étoiles sur 5 2 commentaires client

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EUR 136,31 EUR 40,45
Broché, 1981
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Read Susan Hill's 2008 novella "The Venetian Mask", describes a newly-married couple that loses its way in Venice with fatal consequences for the bridegroom. Her book celebrated the mystery of Venice throughout, but was it scary?

Read Ian McEwan's 2nd novel (1981) and shiver! It deals with Mary and Colin on a weeks-long holiday in Venice. They have been a LAT-couple for 7 years, but are here and now inert, silent, unable to plan ahead or their daily lives: forgetting their city map, they lose their way every day. Written in a more languid voice than Susan Hill's, it is far more intrusive. Readers want to get a quick grip on a story, but McEwan does not allow this.

Divorced Mary has 2 children who stay with their dad in a UK commune. She acted in a now defunct woman's collective. Colin tried singing, then acting, no more about him or who paid the holiday, except that he looks cute. In my view, the couple is doomed from page 1. They do not act like normal tourists and fall prey to black-clad Robert, a guide, then owner of a basement gay bar with a jukebox emitting blue light. It blasts out again and again the same pumping, shrieking, sentimental song whose refrain of "Ha, ha, ha" is sung along loudly by the black-clad cruisers. Shortened by one `ha' for copyright reasons(?), the refrain and song must be the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive", a worldwide disco hit. And another clue about death foretold McEwan planted in his tale.

Read on to see how the trustful couple falls for the charms and fictions of Robert and his handicapped wife Caroline. It ends badly for the male hero (?) Colin, as in Susan Hill's book. Deep book that ends in blood and drama. Brr. On several counts, I rate McEwan's early story higher than Susan Hill's. Both books are rich in ideas and should be read more than once.
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Format: Broché
Though I like McEwan, I found this book lacking the expected debt. Short, with plenty of irrelevant "leads" and a rather banal ending, it leaves one sorry to have spent time on it.
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1.0 étoiles sur 5 Toe-curlingly embarrassing 11 octobre 2010
Par Scott Hannigan - Publié sur
Format: Broché
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!

They meet a stranger called Robert who won't stop touching them - so much that they both ask him to stop. Robert takes them to a gay bar that he apparently owns. There is no food in this bar (the cook is ill) so they drink several bottles of wine. Robert tells them his life story. His father and his beastly sisters were very unkind to him. Conveniently, Robert speaks English extraordinarily well which absolves Colin and Mary of the necessity of being fluent in Italian.

They leave the bar and Colin and Mary, having not thought of the most obvious solution to their present problem, that is asking directions from Robert who is a local, let him simply walk away and they continue being lost. They sleep in the street. (What?) They wake up very thirsty and can't find a cafe in Venice. (What?) Mary informs Colin that he hasn't shaved. This is actually not true at all. Their meticulous toilette was described quite specifically before they left the hotel 12 hours previously, including the detail that Colin was indeed shaving for the second time that day. It was just before they made love so she should have noticed it then (oh, of course I'm forgetting she was probably asleep!) They decide to go to the hospital of all places because they might be able to get a drink of water. (What?) Nothing happens but now they don't appear to be lost so much so they decide to head back to the hotel via St Mark's Square. Hey presto, there are some cafes here! They are still very very thirsty (indeed Mary's lips are cracked) but the nasty waiter won't give them any water. (What?) He does tell them where there is a tap but they ignore this and stay and order coffee. Robert happens to walk past and he invites them to his place. They accept and leave in a boat with him before their coffee arrives (still presumably dying of thirst).

[If I may just interrupt here to say that I have been to Italy several times (including Venice) and the standard response when you ask for water is 'Sí, Signore, acqua minerale o naturale?' - 'Yes sir, mineral water or natural?' Also this business of being lost is just not credible - of course you can get momentarily confused in those little streets but the Grand Canal is only ever a stone's throw away from anywhere, and I am mystified as to how McEwan can possibly expect the millions upon millions of people who have been there to believe that these two had to resort to sleeping in the street.]

Colin and Mary wake up in Robert's house and they can't find their clothes. (What?) Mary does some shoulder stands anyway with nothing on. (What?) She finds a nightie so she goes on a tour of the house leaving Colin naked and alone. She meets Robert's wife Caroline (for the first time) who notices how Mary wolfs down the single biscuit she is offered, so staggers off to prepare many sandwiches for her. Mary doesn't mention Colin who is still alone and naked in the bedroom and who apparently hasn't eaten anything for about 36 hours. The two women discuss murder. (As you do). Colin joins them wearing only a handtowel. Caroline tells them she has been looking at them while they were asleep and naked. (What?) She invites them to dinner and they accept. (What?)

During drinks before dinner Robert takes Colin into another room and punches him in the stomach causing him to collapse on the floor. (What?) Colin does not question this. (What?) He also doesn't consider it necessary to mention what just happened to the ladies when they rejoin them. In fact he doesn't tell Mary about it for four more days! (WHAT?) They continue with cocktails during which Robert fondles Colin's shoulders. (What?) After dinner Caroline invites them to return and they accept. (What?) She explains that she can't leave the house because she is so badly injured. No-one asks what happened to her. (What?) It turns out later that she has masochistic tendencies and she never really got over that last broken back (Huh?)

Colin and Mary return to their hotel and, inexplicably, indulge in a 4-day frenzy of sex and gluttony. (What?) At meal times they have 1½ courses each and 2 bottles of wine each. Not one hangover or bout of vomiting is mentioned. (Now, I don't know about you but I reckon Colin must be made of very stern stuff if he can consume such a vast amount of alcohol and still manage to ravish his girlfriend several times a day for four days). They discuss orgasms. Colin reveals that he has an aching emptiness somewhere between his scrotum and his anus. (Good grief! Do we really need to know this?) They also reveal some rather obscene fantasies to each other which I won't bore you with here. Suffice to say that I'm glad I wasn't eating at the time I read this.

The next morning Mary reveals that while they were at Robert and Caroline's for dinner she saw a photo of Colin that Robert showed her. She apparently didn't ask Robert how he came to have this, nor did she didn't mention it then to Colin or during the next 4 days. (What?) She is very frightened. Colin would understandably be a bit spooked too but his reaction isn't mentioned.

On a completely overcast day (the sky is described as being black!) Colin and Mary decide to go to the beach. Just before they leave Colin sticks his finger deep inside Mary, (What?) but they remind each other they are going to the beach and they pull apart to pack the towels. They have a bitch of a time finding a spot on the beach but they do and then Mary nearly drowns. Well, no actually she wasn't drowning at all - she was just having a lovely swim but Colin was absolutely certain she was in peril and spent ages stroking out to save her, nearly drowning himself in the process. (What?)

On the way back they decide not to go all the way round the island so they get off the boat at a different stop and who should they run into? That's right. Those two loonies. So what do they do in their infinite wisdom? They go into their house. (Oh God almighty!)

Need I go on?

The grisly denouement is just as bizarre as the rest of it and will leave you scratching your head with mystification.
81 internautes sur 90 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Dark, dangerous, twisted 18 février 2003
Par E. A Solinas - Publié sur
Format: Broché
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. He is extremely talented in portraying the few characters -- Colin and Mary are bland but essentially harmless, while Caroline and Robert crackle with energy, but, they are extremely frightening. This book is not one for kids, it has a lot of sexual content, including some really twisted, frightening stuff. Heck, some adults may not like it.
It's a quick read, took me only half an hour to read it. But it's dark and haunting, and not for thw weak of heart.
40 internautes sur 53 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Good Early McEwan 11 juin 2003
Par Foster Corbin - Publié sur
Format: Relié
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.
5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
1.0 étoiles sur 5 Usually like McEwan's books 20 juin 2013
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
This book has nothing to recommend it. I usually like the twists and turns his books take but this book was dark from the beginning. Writing about depravity for the sake of shocking readers is not a worthy goal and I feel that is what this book was about. You could see the end at the beginning.
20 internautes sur 26 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Disturbing 23 juillet 2001
Par Un client - Publié sur
Format: Broché
From the back cover, I thought that this would be a book that I could read on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Central Park. In my naivete, I didn't realize that it would be the kind of book that would continue to disturb my thoughts even after I shelved it unfinished. This book produces nightmares. It's well-written. It captures the mood of traveling. But, unfortunately, it will be a book that I am simply unable to pick up again with a plot I'd prefer to forget. Having said all this, I know a person whose literary taste (and stronger stomach) I hightly respect who has admitted that it was this book that caused him to run out and buy all of Ian McEwan's books.
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