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The Comfort of Strangers

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Wikipedia article

'The Comfort of Strangers' is a 1981 novel by British writer Ian McEwan. It is his second novel, and is set in an unnamed city (though the detailed description strongly suggests Venice). It was adapted into a film in 1990 ('The Comfort of Strangers'), which starred Rupert Everett, Christopher Walken, Helen Mirren and Natasha Richardson. The film is set in Venice.

Plot summary

Mary and Colin are an English couple on holiday abroad in an unnamed city. Mary is divorced with two children; Colin is her angelically handsome lover who has been with her for seven years. Although they do not usually live together, their relationship is deep, passionate and intimate.

One evening, the couple gets lost amongst the canals and are befriended by a forceful native named Robert, who takes them to a bar. Later, he insists on bringing them to his house where they meet his wife Caroline. Although the guests are at first shown great hospitality, it becomes clear that the hosts have a peculiar relationship with each other Robert is the product of a sadistic upbringing and Caroline, who is disabled, has an uncomfortable masochistic view of men as being masters to whom women should yield.

The liberal English couple withdraw from the house, but the events of the evening have set in chain a series of increasingly disturbing occurrences which neither foresaw.


McEwan's novel explores the closeness that exists between Mary and Colin. They have known each other for seven years and "often forget that they are two separate people". As well as being an expression of their love, this closeness makes them weak and puerile. It causes them pain, and enables Robert to take advantage of them.

The disturbing climax of the narrative suggests that McEwan is concerned with two main themes. First, the sadistic behaviour of Robert and the subservience of Caroline are manifestations of a raw and haunting human sexuality. Second, Robert's acts are placed in the context of his adolescence, suggesting that his highly-sexed family upbringing was responsible for his behaviour.


The novel was nearly universally praised both in the United Kingdom and in the United States. In 'The New York Times', the critic John Leonard wrote "No reader will begin 'The Comfort of Strangers' and fail to finish it; a black magician is at work." Leonard called McEwan "one of the few English writers of fiction who belong these days to a dark Europe; he is a Samuel Beckett with some genital organization" and "a writer of enormous talent."


Category:1981 novels

Category:British novels

Category:British novels adapted into films

Category:Novels by Ian McEwan

Category:Novels set in Venice

is:Vinarel kunnugra

it:Cortesie per gli ospiti (romanzo)


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