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The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

This was exactly the novel I didn’t want to read, but at least it’s official now – NO MORE IAN MCEWAN BOOKS FOR ME, EVER. I would like to tell you how stupid this novel is, but Maciek beat me to it – see his great review here


So let me tell you about the boring sentences you have to accept into your life if you read this book. Here’s one:

Now, in the late afternoon, although the sun was still high, the eastern sky had lost its vivid purple and, fading by degrees through nursery blue to diluted milk, effected, across the precise line of the horizon, the most delicate of transactions with the pale grey of the sea.

This is, I take it, what people mean when they harp on about the Ian McEwan prose style. It looks, to me, as if, Mr McEwan, has broken in to James Ellroy’s office, and, stolen all James’ commas. Never have, I seen, so many clauses, and commas, in one short, novel. For me the effect is akin to reading through a stocking mask, the kind that robbers used before they all switched to balaclavas. Especially when our prose stylist is continually, dementedly, describing the weather, the streets of Venice, or the furniture in the rooms. Ah how he loves furniture. Cutlery too.

You can tell this is pretentious I mean literary because although it’s set in Venice the V word is never mentioned.

By now I have realised what Ian McEwan’s USP is. What he does is he describes in tedious detail a couple of ordinary novocained middle class English types in an ordinary situation and just when you’re dozing off he has a page of lurid violence. Sometimes the lurid violence comes at the beginning, sometimes in the middle, and here at the end.

Here’s another McEwanbite for you. I think this is the way dead people would write, if they could :

In the evening they decided they were suffering from lack of exercise and made plans to catch the boat across the lagoon the next day to the popular strip of land whose beaches faced the open sea. This led them to talk at length and euphorically, for they had just smoked another joint, about swimming, their preferred strokes, the relative merits of rivers, lakes, swimming-pools and seas, and the precise nature of the attraction water had for people : was it the buried memory of ancient sea ancestors? Talk of memory caused Mary to frown again. The conversation became desultory after that, and they went to bed earlier than usual, a little before midnight.

Notice “the popular strip of land whose beaches faced the open sea” – he can’t give it its name, which would be the natural thing to do, because for some reason of high literature, he has decided not to say that the city with its canals and no traffic is Venice. So he has to use this forced circumlocution.

This novel means nothing. It portentously gestures towards some kind of statement critical of men who think that women really like to be beaten up and by extension how feminism is destroying life as we know it but the denouement capsizes any attempt to make sense of the plot.

This novel promotes yet another version of the concept that (some) victims actively participate in their own destruction. Why do they do this? Well, who knows, not Ian McEwan, that’s for sure. They just do. Too much novocaine maybe.

I am promoting the idea that readers can do without Ian McEwan.
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Published 26.05.2019

Chitkul Travel Guide - Delhi to Chitkul by Bus - Stay - Indian Last Village

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Ian McEwan

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