This is Ian McEwan’s second novel, published in 1981. In it, a youngish married couple who have clearly been together long enough to drift apart a little find themselves in Venice on a kind of extended holiday. They spend their days mostly in silence, drifting through the city together or apart, smoke weed on the balcony, drink at sunset, and barely talk or touch. But then they meet Robert, an eager and willing tour guide to the city’s hidden features. He takes them to dinners, he plies them with drinks, he becomes entirely annoyed at any reticence on their parts, and then he slowly brings them around to being in and staying in his house. There we meet Robert’s wife, and the ominous cloud surrounding the whole ordeal begins to intensify.
But at the same time, the couple have a renewed spark in each other.
This is a haunting little book that shows some of the potential exigencies of married life, especially as we used to know it before a more renewed sense of marriage not being the only path for relationships. There’s also the clear danger that comes with unclear expectations (sexual and otherwise) in marriages.
This novel is cryptic and shares numerous similarities to a few forebears. You can feel the influence of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice from the very beginning. But also, there’s an element of Patrick Modiano throughout. Lastly, I really feel like this feels like a Patricia Highsmith novel in a lot of ways too. There’s even some JG Ballard going on. Mostly this feels like an early novel but a youngish male writer.