I really like Ian McEwan’s novels. Before reading The Comfort of Strangers I had read Atonement, and found both to be interesting and engaging. McEwan’s stories are often dark and sinister, turning everyday moments into tragic events. There is something about the way he describes chaos and violence that is almost poetic, however disturbing the situation might be. As I began reading The Comfort of Strangers, I was instantly drawn in by McEwan’s style, but I was waiting to stumble across the story-altering twist, the piece of information that would drastically change the meaning of everything before it. With twelve pages left in the book, the twist came on page 115 when Caroline shows Mary the wall of pictures of Colin.
I’m not usually the type of person to yell at the characters in horror movies or books, I don’t usually tell them to leave the dark, scary basement, but McEwan made me care about Colin and Mary, and as Mary saw the pictures on the wall, I wanted her to run as fast as she could away from the crazy woman next to her. Even though I had expected things to go badly for Colin and Mary, when everything went downhill I wasn’t expecting how horribly wrong it would become. I was expecting some sort of confrontation between Robert, Caroline and Colin, but I was not expecting it to end in death, or at least not death in such a gruesome manner. Colin’s murder removes any of the romanticism that sometimes accompanies death in fiction; there are no dramatic final words, no tearful goodbyes. Because the story shifts to Mary’s perspective, we drift in and out of consciousness with her and miss Colin’s final breath, making his death even more sinister.
I think McEwan’s main accomplishment in The Comfort of Strangers is the message he presents regarding the dangers of travel. His characters go off to Italy to rediscover the strength in their relationship, and instead find themselves facing down death. It is this idea, that any traveler at any time in any place could easily fall victim to a dark and sinister death at the hands of someone more familiar with their surroundings that adds a truly chilling overtone to the entire story. Anyone could take a wrong turn and end up in a dark alley with an unsavory character, but that’s not exactly highlighted in any of the travel brochures that promise fun times and beautiful scenery. Colin and Mary wanted an authentic experience so much that they were unable to see the danger their new authentic acquaintances represented.