” But they knew each other much as they knew themselves, and their intimacy, rather like too many suitcases, was a matter of perpetual concern; together they moved slowly, clumsily, effecting lugubrious compromises, attending to delicate shifts of mood, repairing breaches. As individuals they did not easily take offense; but together they managed to offend each other in surprising unexpected ways;…” 
Mood, both suspenseful and sinister, bodes the shocking ending of The Comfort of Strangers. The cleverness lays in the fact that a tale of romantic ennui quickly forays into erotic menace and most unexpectedly, a violent crime story. The brooding, the muttering under the breath, the standoffish silence all remind one of On Chesil Beach as the air is charged with tension. But The Comfort of Strangers is creepy that every turn of the page has the power to crawl under my skin.
In in unnamed city that might very well be Venice, Mary, a divorced woman with two children left behind at home, is on vacation with her lover for seven years, Colin. Although their relationship is deep, passionate, and intimate, they cease to be on speaking terms at the moment.
This was no longer a great passion. The pleasure was in its unhurried friendliness, the familiarity of its rituals and procedures, the secure, precision-fit of limbs and bodies, comfortable, like a cast returned to its mold. 
By chance the vacationing couple, somewhat naive and unguarded, becomes entangled with a strange couple: Caroline and Robert. The wife loves to have extreme pain inflicted on her and the husband is glad to inflict it. To their thrills but to others menace, they decide to make the new arrivals their victims of sadistic fetish.
The Comfort of Strangers is written with a minimalist approach: A goes to B where A meets C and some terrible things happen. End of the story with no explanation. The approach might give the story a touch of starkness but the cusp of violence and desire, which are redolent in the entire book, beg an explanation or at least a kind of commentary from the author. What’s McEwan’s intention? What’s the underlying white noise? One subtle display is the existence of contradictions beginning with the title of the book. For what Mary and Colin have experienced in their vacation is the least of what they would expect. There is not even a sense of joy, let alone comfort. Comfort is least of what I can derive from this novel.
127 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]