I’m doing this for your own good…

May 22, 2009 | No Comments

Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers, published in 1981, is a menacing novella about a violent and erotic misadventure in the gorgeously dank seediness of Venice. I can’t say I enjoyed it but observing McEwan wield his scalpel against his defenseless characters is hypnotic and addictive. James Wood, in an article in the April 30th issue of The London Review of Books, explores McEwan’s literary focus on trauma, which, he argues, McEwan uses as a metaphor to explore loss of innocence. Wood characterizes McEwan as a distinctly manipulative author, but an author who manipulates in order to underscore the very fictive nature of fiction itself. Using Atonement as an example, he explores, convincingly, reasons why some readers were so offended by this novel’s structure and denouement, and concludes that our yearning for happy endings is in some way indicative of the “banality” of our own literary pretensions. McEwan, it could be said, is teaching us a lesson by stretching our literary muscles while relieving us of our innocence. Ouch.

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