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As their holiday unfolds, Colin and Maria are locked into their own intimacy. They groom themselves meticulously, as though there waits someone who cares deeply about how they appear. Then they meet a man with a disturbing story to tell and become drawn into a fantasy of violence and obsession.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099754916
ISBN-10: 0099754916
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 13mm)
Pages: 176
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 3-Jan-1998
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » Locked into a soporific and uneasy kind of intimacy Colin and Mary share an unspoken desire to be released. They holiday, desperately, in a slumbering Mediterrenean town and in the stagnant heat remain in their hotel room grooming themselves compulsively. When they do venture out they loose their bearings in the towns labrynthine streets and, wandering lost, encounter an energetic and insistant stranger with a story to tell. The tourniquet tightens... (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » The Ian McEwan paradox continues. As before (The Cement Garden, In Between the Sheets), he writes some of the cleanest, most sparely seductive narration this side of Graham Greene. Also as before, what his page-by-page craft sweeps you along to is a virtual dead end: a kinky, symbolic sexual situation which is neither effective as storytelling nor freshly resonant as metaphor. Here he follows an unmarried English couple, Colin and Mary, on vacation in an unnamed, Venice-like city. They are beautiful, bright, liberated, a bit androgynous, and having a mostly miserable time. Then, one night, wandering the streets in search of a restaurant, they meet Robert - a wealthy native (though London-bred) who squires them about, regales them with tales of his childhood (strict training in old-fashioned European sex roles), and spirits them off to his splendid villa. . . where his demure, smiling Canadian wife Adrienne seems to be in constant pain, perhaps a prisoner. Other oddnesses accumulate as well: Robert, who seems at least latently homosexual, punches Colin in the stomach after delivering a tirade on the misery caused by today's sex-role confusion; Mary sees a secretly-snapped photo of Colin on Robert's wall. But the lovers continue - with exasperating passivity (or have they been drugged?) - to hang around with these weirdos. . . until it's too late: Adrienne confesses her sadomasochistic conjugal life (Robert even broke her back); Colin becomes the sex/death sacrifice of the odd couple; and Mary is left to announce McEwan's theme - "how the imagination, the sexual imagination, men's ancient dreams of hurting, and women's of being hurt, embodied and declared a powerful single organizing principle, which distorted all relations, all truth." Plausible psycho-sociology, perhaps - but a thunderingly clunky ending to a novella whose first half promises important fiction. So, once again, McEwan seems to be a huge talent constricted by the need to preach, philosophize, or work out private obsessions; and one can only hope that writing beguiling but disappointing essay-stories like this one will free him to write more wide-ranging, full-visioned fiction in the future. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is the author of two collections of stories and twelve previous novels, including Enduring Love, Amsterdam, for which he won the Booker Prize in 1998, Atonement and, most recently, Solar.

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