Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

McEwan is in the book news lately for three passages in his novel, Atonement, which have some resemblance to a wartime nurse's memoir he openly acknowleged using for research. Atonement is one of my favorite novels of recent years and for the record, it wasn't those three passages that put it at the top of my list. The question of plagiarism in fiction is sometimes an interesting one--but in this case, it seems to be too much ado about too little.

For awhile, I avoided reading this earlier novel, The Comfort of Strangers, partly because I wasn't too excited by my other McEwan reading, Amsterdam, and a brief foray into The Cement Garden didn't grab me either, not to mention I was traumatized by a teenage viewing of the movie adaptation (Christopher Walken plays the villain--need I say more?) but actually this short novel is compelling for a lot of the reasons Atonement is--it takes you in very very close to another person's experience. McEwan is a master of taking his time in scene, observing setting, action and thoughts at a pace slower than which most of us actually live. And so as a reader you're forced tightly inside of the point of view character's experience. In the case of Comfort of Strangers, it is a nightmare travel experience that made me unlikely to ever set foot in Venice. A colleague and I recently decided that the tourist literature of Italy can be split into two camps--the romantic dream (say Room with a View) or the deadly.

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