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am 13. August 2002
Having seen the movie (Christopher Walker is a genius, as always) and having read the book afterwards I still am deeply touched by it. What irritates me most is that I cannot explain exactly why - I can only repeat the adjectives given in the title of this review which I read in several movie recensions. ATMOSPHERE is perhaps the right word, and since Daphne DuMaurier's "Don't look back" (movie from 1973) or even Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" (movie from 1970) there is obviously no other town on earth in which the depressing or eerie atmosphere lurking around the corner is palpable like that. Some reviewers critized the book as "unconvincing" and "implausible" (even as "boring" which I read incredulously!), its actions "inconceivable" - perhaps they should stick to reading James Bond novels or the like... But if you prefer brilliant reading about the mysterious, sinister and non-superficial side of human lives, you have to try this book!
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am 21. Dezember 1998
This is one of the worst novels I have ever read in mylife. The plot is totally unconvincing and extremely boring, and thereis no character development. The British couple cannot find a bottle of water to drink in the whole city of Venice, they wake up naked in a strange place and do not wonder where they are, the reader has no clue why they are bored with each other until they meet the sado-masochistic couple, endless and wordy descriptions of Venice, a woman who enjoys it when her husband breaks her ribs. Give me a break! If you want to read good modern British fiction writers, try Graham Greene, Anthony Burgess, John Fowles, Martin Amis, and of course, Salman Rushdie. McEwan is a waste of time, including his Amsterdam in which it is not difficult for the reader to guess the ending and again there is basically no character development.
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am 26. Januar 2003
I would guess like many readers I came upon this writer's work when he began receiving international acclaim for his work, "Amsterdam", in 1998 when the novel won The Booker Prize. I have read his work that has been published after that tale, and now have been going back to his earlier work, a decision that can be very rewarding, or quite the opposite. I suppose expecting earlier work to be less mature or skillful is reasonable, but there are also writers that appear with an initial work that is very good or even excellent, and they manage, with some exceptions, to keep the quality of work very high. Other writers peak with their first book, there are no rules.
"The Comfort Of Strangers" is the second novel that Mr. McEwan published, and it would be fair to call it more of a short story. I don't know what divides a short story from a novella from a novel; it appears publishers use the terms interchangeably at times. From the two earlier works I have read, this book along with, "The Innocent", Mr. McEwan to date, sits in the category of writers who get better as they hone their craft. This may appear to be the normal course of a writer's development, but we all have read otherwise.
My primary complaint with this book is that the author worked around the fringes of what many would consider taboo conduct, darts in for a moment or two of detail, but does not fully explore the issues he touches upon, nor does he complete his tale. Another author that I am a great admirer of is Penelope Fitzgerald who said she never let her characters decide where they would go in a story, she decided their every move. Now again this may sound obvious, who controls their characters if not the author, but she was speaking of having a plan for her players from opening page to closing paragraph. Mr. McEwan does not manage the detail of his characters here, he asks the reader to fill in the detail or in some cases the blanks. In this book I do not like the decision he made, but for admirers of his work that wish to go back to his earlier published material, this is a quick and interesting read of an author that has gone on to be internationally recognized.
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am 8. April 2014
Like no other place Venice lends itself to sinister stories and once again – as in „Don’t look now“ - the city’s maze of canals , labyrinth of obscure alleyways, dead ends, dark and crumbling shuttered houses and deserted squares away from the crowded tourist places are beautifully evoked.
It is not long before a sense of dread creeps into the story and the suspense becomes almost unbearable.

I would have given the book five stars but I found the British couple improbably insipid and unbelievably naive. Although supposedly educated, artistic, feminist and pseudo-intellectual, they behave like the proverbial "innocents abroad". Having had a comfortable routine relationship for seven years they visit Venice for the first time and spend their days in the hotel room having comfortable routine sex. When they are not having sex they are having long, boring, existential discussions on their balcony. They never seem to be able to find anything to eat or drink in Venice and spend one night sleeping in a doorway because they can't find their way back to the hotel.
Most of all, implausibly, they are not unduly disturbed by their new acquaintances' weird behaviour.

On the other hand, the way the author achieves such a level of creepiness and foreboding out of thin air is absolutely amazing, therefore the 4 star compromise.
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am 14. September 2012
Read Susan Hill's 2008 novella "The Venetian Mask", in which a newly-married couple 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, also owner of a basement gay bar with a jukebox emitting blue light, like an ambulance or police car... 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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am 13. Juni 2010
An English couple (Mary and Colin) spend their holiday in a city that bears some resemblance with Venice, Italy. After a few days they meet an other couple (Robert and Caroline) who are Canadians but live in that town since several years. The name of that town is never mentioned but it's of no importance. Like "Death in Venice" by Thomas Mann - where the town is only the scene for the impossible love of a sick man for a boy - the city of Ian McEwan is the scene for a man and a woman trying to revive their love for each other. But above all it's the story of their troublesome relationship with the Canadian couple, a relationship that soon will change into a nightmare.

During the nighttime, it's a gloomy city with dark and dirty gables, empty streets, no lights in the houses and every bar and restaurant seem to have vanished into thin air. Only one bar is open. The owner of the bar is Robert. It's an obscure place where unsavory men- captivated by the glittering lights of a jukebox- are listening to the music with stern faces. They listen to the same song over and over again while they hold the jukebox as if it were a life-buoy.

The most intriguing character is Robert. One evening, while Mary and Colin are having a drink in his bar, Robert comes in. He's dressed in a black jacket and a white open shirt and the smell of cheap perfume lingers around him. He invites the English couple - who should be perfect strangers to him - for dinner in his house. While Caroline and Mary are in the kitchen, the men have a conversation about the parents of Robert. At a given moment Colin has to smile a little about something and David, without saying anything, punches Colin in the stomach. Then the conversation continues as if nothing happened. But you get the feeling that the novel might not have a happy ending. Caroline is Robert's wife. She's shy and tense. One gets the impression that she's under the complete control of Robert. You could even say that she seems to be the prisoner of her husband and although she's shy, she yearns for a good conversation as if talking to strangers would comfort her. Mary and Colin are stereotype lovers although they can have rather academic discussions for several hours. These conversations and the digressions by the writer are sometimes long-winded with the result that you become impatient. You want to know how the story unfolds.

Published for the first time in 1981, 'The Comfort of Strangers' is not one of his best achievements ('Atonement', 'Amsterdam'). But you should read this short novel especially when you're a fan of Ian McEwan. I like this novel because you can taste the evil and you can smell the madness albeit for short moments.
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am 2. Februar 1998
Ian McEwan creates a real page-turner, with intriguing characters and a climactic scene so tense that I had to put the book down and take a few deep breaths in order to continue reading. The Venice setting is amazingly described and this is a book I strongly recommend for both Thriller and Venice-lovers. Tantalizing, horrifying and compelling book about two naives who've fallen into very perverse company.
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am 6. Oktober 1999
Although this work was published in 1981, I have read McEwan's more recent novels and was vastly impressed with his insight into the pecadillos of human nature and particularly, their logical, (although sometimes despicable) conclusions. Sometimes it feels like he took lessons from the Twilight Zone, but interpreted the lessons to their most metaphysical outcome.
This novel depicts a consuming, devoted,, (though sometimes taken-for-granted)love between a young couple that ends sorrowfully in catastrophe, not of their own making; albeit the friendship Colin and Mary unwittingly develop with Caroline and John is a lethal one.
The characters are developed with such precision that the reader cannot bear the outcome. This author is a genius and a breaker of hearts.
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am 26. März 1999
If you're only interested in an involved plot and want to skim the surface of novel and still get enjoyment, this book is not for you. The novel delves into the beauty of Venice, the almost sinister beauty. From the opening paragraph, it is evident that the couple involved are trying to ignore evil lurking right outside their door.
This novel also searches the intricasies of reltionships between men and women. Intersting commentaries on modern feminism and its effects on both men and women. You might not agree, but its simply to intriguing to ignore.
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am 21. Februar 1999
I don't understand the criticism I've read about the plausibility, or the lack thereof, of the plot of TCOS. How plausible are our dreams, or our nightmares? In TCOS, and in his equally disquieting novel, The Cement Garden, McEwan creates characters with no moral grounding, who wander unconsciously through life. This seems to me the essential quality of his characters. Is this so implausible? Haven't we all encountered people who drift dreamily through their lives. For me, McEwan's fiction is too painfully real and, I believe, Ian McEwan is very deserving of whatever praise he receives.
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