In "comfort" of strangers, Mary and Colin keep to themselves, innocently unaware...
This novella was a terrifying story. Other books we read in class all had some gloomy, morbid aspects but this one struck me as the most disturbing. By the time I finished, the first thing that came to mind other than all the twisted emotions that engrossed me was that I ought to be much more careful of strangers and not to trust people abroad no matter how cordial they appear to be. Robert, although not a native, is an aristocratic-born resident of this foreign city who kindly offers our protagonist tourists, Mary and Colin, a way to some “good food,” to his bar where locals hang out. I thought Robert would function as a wonderful bridge to the authentic experiences for the two tourists who carry maps everywhere, look for the “ideal restaurants,” often eating earlier than dinner time or returning back to the one they dined before, and use the magic phrase “we’re on a holiday” whenever they’re in an imperfect state of their tourist experiences, such as when the heat is unusually oppressive, when they are lost, having forgotten their maps, or when Colin decides to skip shaving before going out to a café. I thought the story would be about how Mary and Colin are transformed from tourists to real travelers due to Robert’s generous help or something. My innocent guess turned out to be wrong of course. By the time Robert’s Canadian wife Caroline enters the scene, the mystery gradually builds up, creating suspense that got me flipping page after another, only to get struck by a shocking end.
“On holiday,” together in this foreign city, Colin and Mary enjoy the comfort of strangers. In their hotel life, the maid, unknown to them and encountered only once, is a stranger who comes to their empty hotel room to clean up their mess: “Unused to hotel life, they were inhibited by this intimacy with a stranger they rarely saw” (12). The maid is a stranger to them who touches, rearranges, and organizes their personal belongings such as dirty clothes and shoes; Mary and Colin, “rapidly, however, [comes] to depend on her and [grow] lazy with their possessions” (12). At “a restaurant that suited them[,] the two waiters who served them” are accounted as “friendly but pleasingly distant” (96). Outside in the streets, they find themselves in crowds of strangers. Each morning “with their money, sunglasses and maps, [they] join the crowds who swarmed across the canal bridges and down every narrow street.” As tourists, they have no associations and ties, only knowing themselves, they “dutifully fulfill the many tasks of tourism the anciety city imposed,” visiting churches, museums, palaces, and shopping streets for souvenirs. In fact, meeting Robert and going to his bar is the first time they talk with locals; they “experience the pleasure, unique to tourists, of finding themselves in a place without tourists, of making a discovery, finding somewhere real [and are] gratified to be talking at last to an authentic citizen” (29). Even when they get lost despite their maps, they consult the sun rather than asking people around. Likewise, Colin and Mary are find comfort in this foreign city of strangers.
However, blinded by the comfort of strangers, perhaps too much comfort, they come to a tragic end. Just like how they trust the maid with their privacy and feel secure among the strangers on the streets, Mary and Colin also innocently trust Robert, another stranger, and his seeming generosity. However, by the end, Robert and his wife are not to have been trusted at all. Robert had been taking photographs of Colin from their first arrival and making psychotic plans with his submissive wife.
After the strange visit at Robert and Caroline’s, Mary and Colin are drawn much together. Although they are not transformed from tourists to travelers as I innocently guessed at first, their relationship changes after their brief stay at Robert and Caroline’s. In the beginning, they are found sleeping in “separate beds” and “not on speaking terms.” After their visit to Robert and Caroline’s, however, they are in love, talk a lot, and discuss politics of sex and formulate theories about memory and childhood. They do not mention their strange visit at Robert’s until Mary remembers the photograph of Colin she saw at Robert’s. While they have been wandering around, engaging in tourist experiences, keeping to themselves in the comfort of strangers, Robert had been taking photos of Colin. At the end, when trapped in Robert and Caroline’s evil plans, Colin says he’ll comply to whatever Robert wants him to do as long as he gets Mary to the hospital. While the visit to Robert and Caroline’s reignites Mary and Colin’s love and draws the two closer, it is also Robert and Caroline’s where their love is broken with Colin’s death and Mary’s trauma.
In this foreign city, Colin and Mary have only been going to well known tourist areas, full of strangers—other tourists with cameras or locals. Because they know no one in the city other than themselves, the crowds of people are mere strangers who they do not associate with and pay not a lot of attention to. In the comfort of strangers, Mary and Colin fail to notice any mishaps, Robert stalking and taking pictures of beautiful Colin and designing evil plans to murder him.