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First Published in 2001, Atonement is on of McEwan's best selling novels winning unanimous praise by the worlds literature critics, but perhaps is also known for splitting the public opinion. Since its best selling status, it has officially been revered as a British Classic slotting into line with titles from Bronte, Conan Doyle and Eliot. It has also been made into an award winning film starring Kiera Knightly and James McAvoy. As a keen reader, one cannot help but be sucked in by all of this success and hype. But to be honest, I for one am always sceptical of hype. Nonetheless, I had to put my dubiousness to one side and give this novel a go. The question is, should you?
Well firstly it is very hard to explain the story of Atonement without giving the twist away that unravels itself in the final part of the novel. The story starts in the summer of 1935 inside the household of an upper - middle class English family. Briony Tallis is an avid writer for a thirteen year old girl, a girl with a fantastic imagination desperately trying to understand the adult world as well as grabbing any attention she can with her self written play 'The Trials of Arabella'. However, it soon becomes apparent that she looses interest in her family production when she misinterprets a complication between her elder sister Cecelia and the family gardener, Robbie Turner. There is obviously sexual tension in abundance between Cecelia and Robbie, but what Briony doesn't realise is that there is a big difference between lust and manipulation. It doesn't help matters further when Briony walks into the library and interrupts an 'encounter' between the two lovers. From then on, Briony's imagination has severe consequences for Robbie as a series of events unfold which she will forever attempt to atone.
The novel itself is split into four parts and the first part which involves Briony's 'crime' is in fact the most laborious to read. The reason for this is actually a mixture of overly descriptive language and his lack of character depth. It may sound unfair, but his intelligent overly flamboyant descriptions are too grand, too often used and too pretentious at times, which as a result more often than not disrupts the flow of reading. It's fanciful and avant-garde to describe a sunset that lasts a paragraph, but perplexing to comprehend as to why the same detail is not given to the actual characters.
Of course that's not to say that the characters are completely made of cardboard, but rather one dimensional instead. McEwan seems to only give them one face. Briony is finicky, Cecelia is condescending, Mrs Tallis is a hypochondriac and of course Robbie is 'the' victim. This is all very well, but as the reader you soon become a little tired of the monotony and long for something a little more substantial.
Part two of Atonement is much more enjoyable to read as it follows Robbie Turner's role in France during the early events of World War II. The call to retreat has been given and along with two fellow soldiers, Nettle and Mace, Robbie must trek hundreds of miles west to meet the rendezvous point at Dunkirk Beach. Cecelia is a nurse, estranged from her family for their treatment of Robbie and she longs for him to return from France so they can finally start their life together.
There is much more atmosphere here and allows the reader to connect much more with Robbie as his plight of war and experiences escaping Stuka attacks are described in greater detail. I suppose it may be because of an increased amount of action on McEwan's part. However, Robbie still fails to rid himself of the 'victim' tag, which is a bit of a shame.
This section of the novel also gives the reader an insight into the human condition and fight for survival very few of us can barely imagine. Selfishness and greed actually become understandable as we urge Robbie to make it home. Death, desperation and despair are plentiful here and depressing and macabre as they are, it makes for fantastic reading. It's such an annoyance that you have to plough through 200 pages to actually get to it.
To avoid giving spoilers, there is a twist at the end in part four, written from Briony's point of view as an elderly woman looking back on her life. She admits a few truths about the situations described earlier on in the book. No matter how you look upon things it is a surprise and really does give the book a whole new meaning. It is a very clever technique by McEwan to give himself a professional relationship with Briony Tallis and very original too. I for one found it refreshing and thought provoking. The downside of this certain type of shock surprise is that it can ultimately make the novel as a whole a little pointless and self serving. I can't help but wonder if McEwan realised this ambitious idea was a double edged sword?
Linguistically though, this novel is most definitely not for children or the amateur reader. A high understanding of challenging vocabulary is a must and poetic use of elongated sentences may be too much for some casual readers. Paragraphs can sometimes be made up of only one or two sentences yet stretch the breadth of a single page. It is beautifully written on one hand, which makes use of wonderfully thought out metaphors with its long line of adjectives and superlatives, but on the other hand you can find yourself wandering off the straight line and forgetting about the plot altogether.
There are many pleasures to be had with Ian McEwan's 'Atonement', there just so happens to be some downsides too. It's a beautifully novel in many places, very imaginative and detailed, but this elevates it from everyday reading. This book will simply not be for everyone. The detailed paragraphs can be too boring and there is also the issue of character depth, but on the whole there is life to be found in places throughout. It's most definitely worth at least one read but when the shock ending reveals itself; it can be difficult to see any point reading it again at a later date. Refreshing yes, but lacks real substance.
A Little About Ian McEwan:
Born in 1948 in Hampshire, Ian McEwan has been named by The Times as one of Britain's 50th Greatest Writers. Many of his books have been made into films, which includes his best seller 'Enduring Love' and he also won the Man Booker Prize for his 1998 novel 'Amsterdam'. His latest novel 'Solar' was published in 2010.
I'm a great fan of Ian McEwan, and this novel is one of his best in my opinion. He provides us with a very compelling story, drawing us into the lies of the narrator and leaves us with that slight sense of being unnerved, that Mc Ewan does so well, as we watch Briony's lies destroy the lives around her.
The strength of this book for me, however, is not the plot as such, but just how expertly McEwan confuses our allegiences to the narrator. Most often than not, as readers we are led to follow the mind of the narrator and 'be on their side', so to speak. Not so with the narrator of this book, Briony. We are constantly being challenged to rethink our views of her and our trust in her narrative, and consequently I found myself condemning her by the end of the book, which is a very brave and very interesting way for the author to take.
Far from being an atonement, the book is more of a condemnation, thanks to McEwan's subtle and pervading sense of morality and responsibility.
I found this an absolutely fascinating book. And it's SO much better than the film.
This novel, now a film, is set in the 1930s, World War Two and then the present day and centres around a love affair and a lie told by a child, which seriously affects several character's lives - indeed changes them forever. It's difficult to go into the plot too much, because there's a pretty big plot twist.
I really struggled with the first half of this book, it's very descriptive and I like plots and dialogue. It need plod a little. In actual fact, I did give up on it, before picking it up again. I read it a few years ago, before the film came out so had no idea of any plot twists, but upon picking it up agian, found the second half to be absolutely brilliant. The plot twist is certainly not something I saw coming, it's pretty emotive and the wartime descriptions of battles in France are very affecting. It's a novel that you certainly think about after you have read it. I don't think it's an easy read but if you do pick it up and aren't sure about it, then perservere, it is worth it.
The film is pretty good too and very well shot (it's worth watching whether you read the book or not).
After reading Ian McEwan's 'Saturday', I felt that he possibly wan't an aurthor that I would read much more of, not that 'Saturday' wasn't a good book, but it just wasn't my preferred genre. However, I gave him another chance, and I was pleased because Atonement is an absolutely fantastic novel! In fact, I was amazed at how versatile McEwan is as an aurthor to be able to adapt his style from the narration of a middle aged male doctor in the year 2003, Henry Perowne, to that of young women and men in the 1930s.
Atonement is split into three parts within which focus shifts between the perspectives of the three central characters; Briony Tallis, the eleven year old sister of Cecilia (the second main character) and Robbie, the son of the Tallis's now maid, Mrs Turner. Without wanting to give away too much, crimes are committed and of course the identity of the villain inevitably becomes distorted with disasterous consequences and therefore the need for 'atonement'.
As the introduction of the novel eerily predicts with it's quoting of Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' and "the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained", the novel deals with the dangers of the imagination and the ignorance which missed details and different perceptions can create.
The book also explores ideas of metafiction and plays with the idea of author; who wrote this book? Was it McEwan? Briony? This makes a further comment on illusionment and realisation; as Briony is convinced by her own imagination, so are we the reader sucked in by her imagination also!
Another major theme of the novel is the second World War of which the plight of the central character's is almost a microcosm - deciet and misunderstanding leading to suffering and misery. With Briony's obsession with drama and control and the theatrical, the war is complemented by ideas of villians and heros; McEwan questions what each of these characters is as Briony realises that Villains aren't always accompanied by telling hisses and boos.
Finally, the novel explores a changing world with new technology and even new, empowered women (as represented by Cecilia and her feminism). Such ideas, for example, are aided by intertextuality and the quoting of authors such as Richardson, and Fielding, author of 'Shamela', whose mention (possibly a regretted act of defiance) suggests that Cecilia is a modern, liberated women.
In short then, this is a very interesting novel which explores technical as well as moral ideas. However, there is another level to this novel which is beautifully simple; love. The main relationships within this novel, notabley the romance between Robbie and Cecilia, are deep and unconditional. There are also moments of great sadness, such as Briony's encounter with the French soldier Luc and the destruction of family bonds due to deceit and misjudgement.
Everyone should give this novel a chance because it has so much to offer both emotionally and intellectually; a fantastic piece.
I read this as part of my A-Level English Literature course, however, it quickly became one of my favourite books, because of the intrigue it has throughout.
Written by Ian McEwan, this novel explores life around the time of World War Two.
Briony is an 11-year old girl, who is used to living in her large house at home with her parents and servants. Despite having a brother and a sister, they are both away a lot, and so she becomes used to life as an only child. So when her brother and sister come to visit, and her cousins are also staying in her house, she soon appears to feel as though the attention has gone off her and onto the rest of her family.
The main thing about Briony is that she sees herself as a highly intelligent and informed girl. However, at the tender age of 11, she doesn't really know what she is getting herself into, as she observes the lives of the people around her. Briony, however, soon proves herself to be a "silly little girl" as she blames Robbie, an innocent family friend who has just opened up a relationship witch Briony's sister - Cecilia, for the rape of her cousin without proper knowledge of explanation behind it.
This accusation tears Robbie and Cecilia apart, and causes Cecilia to separate from her family for believing Briony's naive view on what happened. Robbie later gets sent from prison to fight in the war. Cecilia and Robbie try and keep their relationship going, but we see how difficult this is. We also learn how Briony has spent her years wanting to do good for other people, and feeling guilty for the wrong accusation against Robbie. However, things are not as they seem, as at the end there is a large twist, which will leave you wondering for a long time what the distinction is between reality and fantasy.
The characters in this book are written so well, you can relate to most of them at one point or another. Being an only child, I could relate to Briony wanting her family's attention, although some of us would never go as far as she did to get that attention!
The passion shown between Robbie and Cecilia can also be related to by many, as the beginning stages of a relationship when everything is new and exciting.
The book is split into three sections, each having slightly different points of view and involving slightly different characters. The first part is very interesting, and a good start to the book and introduction to the characters lives. However, the second is very detailed in talking about the terrors of war and what happens, and this makes a stark contrast to the beginning and end of the book.
In comparison to the film, I would say the book is much better. I watched the film to give me a better idea of what it could look like. The war section on the film is visually good, although much shorter than it should be. However, the film gives you a nice view of the characters, although I think Keira Knightley as Cecilia was a bad choice.
I would say this book is definitely worth a read. It has emotion in it throughout, and leaves you thinking for a long time after. I've read a couple of other Ian McEwan books since then, and this is my favourite so far. Even if you don't want to read it, I'd say the film is worth a look, because it's a story that I believe most people could enjoy!
Ian McEwan - Atonement
A great book with interesting themes, published in 2002 by Vintage.
The book gets off to a brilliantly gripping start, I think the start of the book was easily the best part, and i found that you could really relate to the powerful adolescent emotions between some of the main characters. The second part of the book is set years later and describes the brutality of war as one of the characters is fighting in World War II, i personally love books that have a war setting it makes them so much more emotional. There were some very moving parts and the detailed descriptions really enhanced the storyline and the author managed to put alot of emotion into it.
The main characters are Briony who is a shy 11 year old girl, Cecilia her older sister who is in love; she has no hesitation in isolating herself from the rest of her family when the accusation of her lover is revealed. Robbie is the man she falls in love with; strong and also angry at the betrayal of Briony who ruins years of his life with her childish views.
Briony foolishly blames the man her sister has fallen in love with for the rape of another girl, without any purpose or reasoning. Robbie is accused of it and is then sent to jail and Cecilia is left crushed and torn apart from her family and her dreams of a career are also ruined because she is so angry at Briony's naive and damaging mistake. The two lovers are separated for years until they are reunited towards the end of the book. The second part is when Robbie is at war, and this part describes his journey to Dunkirk during the war. When Cecilia and Robbie return to each other, we hear more about Briony, now a young woman, who has lived her life in deep regret and is desperate to express this to Cecilia, and we hear more about how she tries to rebuild this relationship, but all in vain. The epilogue to the book added an unexpected twist which i wasn't expecting at all.
A brilliant read in my opinion again, the book is captivating and very descriptive, the plot, style and language is very good and the author works really hard on developing the characters which really creates a great book.
Once again as with many of the books i review, a definate must read if you like the genre of the book. Even if you do not normally read this sort of book i would recommend you try it, you may even like it... I know I did!
Just returned off holiday and took this book on holiday after hearing about the film but not seen it yet - but am now desperate to to get another 'atonement' fix. The book was so good I couldn't put it down and instead of working on the sintan (like I normally do) I had my face buried in the book until completion. I do have to say though that the book was a little slow to get started, there were a lot of characters introduced quite quickly and you needed to think about who was related to who and what their part was going to be in the story. The book really got un put downable after the fountain scene. This was very believable and I could just imagine Keira Knightly playing this part. More could have been made about the court case and the tensions by all the people involved. As the three lives unfold you really want to read on to see what happens to everybody. I won't reveal anymore though so has not to spoil it for future readers.
I read this book after seeing the film version. This book was first published in the UK in 2001; the film was released in 2007.
I bought this book shortly after seeing the film at the cinema, it was on offer for £3.98 in Tesco, the RRP is £7.99 so I got it for half price; a bargain.
The version I have of the novel was published in 2007 so the cover features Keira Knightley and James McAvoy (the 2 stars of the film)
The main characters
The story is based around a young couple, Cecilia and Robbie and Cecilia's jealous younger sister Briony. There are other characters but these are the three that stand out and we see the most of.
Cecilia: older daughter of a rich family, she has just returned from college. Beautiful and a lovely person. I really grew to love her character; you end up wanting what she wants to happen. (Played brilliantly by Keira Knightley in the film version)
Briony: The younger daughter of the family. A spoilt child, you can tell whilst Cecilia has been away at college she has had everyones attention all the time.
She is not happy now some of that attention is taken away, both by Cecilia's return and the cousins visit.
Robbie: an innocent, lovely guy. Madly in love with Cecilia, he'd do anything for her. Really feel for his character, as he wouldn't harm a fly and is accused of all sorts throughout the film. (played by James McAvoy in the film)
Its 1935, we're at a stately home in the countryside, young sisters Briony (13) and Cecilia (about 18?) live there with their mother and father.
Robbie Turner (the son of the housekeeper who lives in the grounds of the house) and Cecilia were childhood friends, both have recently returned from Cambridge; Robbie on a scholarship paid for by Cecilias father as his family are poor.
Briony has a crush on Robbie while it is obvious Robbie is and always has been in love with Cecilia.
Something Briony see's happen between the two; something innocent, is twisted up in the young girls mind and by the end of this fateful day all three's lives will have changed.
The family have guests to stay, cousins from up north whose parents are going through a messy split so they've sent the children away to these relatives in the country.
There are young twin boys, aged about 10 and their older sister, who I would hazard a guess at being around 14.
At the same time as these visitors, Cecilias brother returns home and brings a couple of his college pals to stay with him. So it's a full house!
Briony's imagination is fuelled further by a letter Robbie asks her to give Cecilia, its meant to be a love letter but as he sat at his typewriter all his innermost sexual thoughts came spilling out and he typed up two very different letters, then handed the 'wrong' one to Briony....
In the pages that follow Cecilia and Robbie cross the line between friendship and something altogether different, Briony witnesses a terrible crime, War breaks out....
The book is full of twists and turns, you really don't know what's going to happen on the next page.
If you have seen the film, you will have already seen the twist at the end which slightly ruins the surprise (still made me cry though) If you haven't yet seen the film, be prepared it is totally shocking!
A fantastic beginning, middle and end!
The book is currently available on Amazon.co.uk for £4.76.
I really enjoyed this book, no page is boring and it really reels you into the story.
The way you love or hate the characters is just proof of the great writing style of Ian McEwan, he brings the story and the people involved to life.
Plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing, both the worst and the best ending of a book I have ever read!
If you haven't read the book or seen the film, I suggest you do both; you get a totally different experience from the two and the story is amazingly portrayed in both.
And it isn't just me who loved it, here's what the newspapers said of the book:
SCOTSMAN: "Brilliantly explores the currents of guilt, shame and anger...utterly satisfying, complete"
THE TIMES: "Smoulders with slow burning menace"
I finished reading 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan at around 1.30 in the morning, because I simply could not put it down before I'd got to the end. After a slow, but steady, start the novel jolts you into places you are not expecting (unless you've seen the film or read the reviews, which I hadn't) and draws you into the characters to such a degree that you have to know how it all ends.
~~~Intro to the Book/Synopsis~~~
'Atonement' has been described as a 'literary novel', which I take to mean both that it contains references to famous literary works (which is something only the very well-read will get something out of), but also that it uses the very process of writing and of creating a novel as a narrative device that gives the book a number of very cleverly weaved layers and makes it a thought provoking, as well as moving, read.
The first part of the book is a detailed description of a particularly hot day in 1935. 13 year old Briony Tallis, dreamer, romantic, budding writer, has written a play to welcome home her elder brother. She finds herself in the middle of an exchange between her older sister, Cecilia, who has recently returned from Cambridge and now knows not what to do next, and Robbie Turner, the gifted son of the housekeeper whose education has been funded by the head of the Tallis household. Robbie gives Briony a note declaring his feelings to deliver to Cecilia. As he left home, he mistakenly picked up a draft of the note with a frank and sexual ending about what he wanted to do to Cecilia that he never intended any one to see. Robbie, realising his error too late to prevent the note from being delivered, manages to explain himself to Cecilia and they have a passionate moment in the library. He was not to know that Briony also read the note before passing it on and is horrified - her view of Robbie as a monster is only confirmed when she walks in on him with her sister in the library. When, later that evening, her teenage cousin is sexually assaulted, Briony 'knows' who is responsible and her testimony will damn Robbie and put in jeopardy any future he and Cecilia might have enjoyed.
Ian McEwan has a record of producing film-adaptable novels. 'Atonement' is his 8th novel (there have been two since, his most recent is 'On Chesil Beach') and there are 6 film adaptations. Ian McEwan has built a reputation for quality character portrayals, suspense (but not in the conventional crime novel style) and layered themes. 'Amsterdam' won a Booker Prize and both 'Atonement' and 'On Chesil Beach' were nominated for one. He is generally speaking a critically acclaimed author.
I read his debut 'The Cement Garden' so long ago that I couldn't remember much about it, apart from that it is pretty macabre. I'd also read 'Enduring Love', which was quite different, but still meticulously written. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started to read 'Atonement', but there is much more to it than the synopsis promises.
Ian McEwan is so skilled at painting his characters. You believe in them completely: their motivations are explained, their fears and foibles understandable, they are convincing. Briony is not painted simply as silly, malicious, immature, although this is certainly how she is perceived by some of the other characters. By the end of the first part of the book you understand how she got herself into the position she did, and how difficult it became to get herself out of it.
Part One takes up the first half of the book. The way that it examines each character, and their part in the events that shift the stories for the key characters, is slow and languorous, much like the stiflingly hot day on which those events take place. Some of this requires patience, but towards the end of the first part the pace accelerates and once it is concluded you are jolted from the inter-war period to the retreat to Dunkirk; from a dinner party at a large country house, to the chaos, violence and death of occupied France.
Against the clearly and dramatically depicted backdrops runs the more elusive theme of atonement and how it can ever be achieved. Robbie the soldier cannot understand Briony's motivation, cannot come to terms with what she did and how to forgive her, and yet he is surrounded by horrors and is daily put into situations where his action or inaction makes him guilty, all of which renders Briony's own guilt meaningless. Briony herself is motivated only by how to obtain forgiveness and make good her errors. The means by which she seeks this depict the very story itself.
At its heart, of course, the novel is a love story and quite an old fashioned one at that, with the separation of war and the absolute need to survive for the sake of that love. This totally appealed to the romantic in me.
I read the book because my friends and I had selected it for our next book club read. Stop laughing! Whilst a book club may be construed as an excuse for me and 3 friends to get together and gossip over wine and crisps, that would be only 50% of the truth!! 'Atonement' got selected for its award nominations and because we thought it would be quite fun to discuss the book, then watch the film and discuss that. We haven't got to the meeting yet, so I haven't seen the film, but have noted the rate at which it has received award nominations, so am looking forward to seeing it!
I would thoroughly recommend this book. It is engaging, moving and thoughtful. It is also cleverly written and constructed. As well as becoming emotionally involved, it left me thinking it all over again - it is one of those books that you would get something different from the second time you read it and I look forward to doing this at some point. I'm also looking forward to the film, I can imagine that a well-made film will capture the love story and that the book offers the possibility of good cinematography to make a beautiful film. Unique to the book, though, must be the way that reality is masked by fiction or rather the way that fiction can become your reality if you want it enough.
?Atonement ? the act of atoning; expiation; reparations; reconciliation?* ?Atonement? is Ian McEwan?s critically acclaimed eighth novel which was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2001. Many critics have said that it is far superior to his Booker winning ?Amsterdam?, but as I haven?t read any of McEwan?s previous work I can?t comment. The only reason I came to read this book was due to favourable review on this website, and on the whole I would also be left recommending this book ? only one real criticism holds me back. The events of the book take place over a small number of significant days in 1935, 1940 and 1999 with their significance stretching across that lifetime. In 1935 the Tallis family live in a large house that was bought by their entrepreneur grandfather. Cecilee is the eldest daughter who has just returned from studying in Cambridge. Coincidentally, Robbie, the charlady?s son, has been studying there at the same time under the patronage of her elusive father. The two have avoided each other, but on their return an event by the fountain in the garden begins to change their lives. Cecilee?s sister, Briony, is a would-be novelist who spends her life daydreaming and watching those about her. When Briony catches sight of the two figures at the fountain, she begins to piece together a story, which in the context of later events has serious consequences on the rest of their lives. When the crime is committed someone will have to atone. The first half of the novel deals with the first few fateful days in 1935 where McEwan skilfully creates an atmosphere of foreboding. It?s hard to say exactly how he manages it, but some of it does certainly have something to do with the book?s title. We know something is going to happen and that someone is going to try and make amends. Possibly this sense of dread is partially created by McEwan?s confidence in not being afraid to take things slowly. In the early chapters the style rea
lly complements the feeling of the long hot summer days that it is trying to evoke. Although the story comes from three different perspectives, the majority of it comes from Briony?s, and McEwan has managed to tap into a child?s perspective exceptionally well. He catches the way children associate things, moving from one thing to another in a fairly fluid way; whilst also managing to pick up the young girl?s preoccupation with love in the stories she creates without making her seem too simplistic. The way in which these stories have the power to totally absorb her reminds me of my imagination as a child where I remember being able to preoccupy myself for hours with my own company. Her concept of time also feels quite authentic with hours seeming like days, and her attempts at writing a short play feeling like a long, drawn out drama. The only part of Briony that made me slightly uncomfortable was the way in which she relished being the centre of attention to such a high degree. Then again, I?m certain this is yet another genuine element of childish behaviour ? possibly just one that I would rather forget was common to me too. For me the other characters don?t seem to acquire quite as much depth until further into the book, with Cecilee still remaining a bit of an enigma. Characters and events appear more as feelings or sensations rather than as vividly painted characters. For me, this was a bit of a mixed blessing, as although it is an interesting writing style, it did detract from some of the emotional impact. Had Cecilee appeared more clearly defined then the consequences of certain actions might well have felt more powerful. Some of that does have something to do with the way in which McEwan writes. For me, the style feels gilded ? a better description might be overly wordy. For example: ?Yes. Unable to push her tongue against the word, Briony could only nod, and felt as she did so a sulky thrill of self-annihilating
compliance spreading across her skin and ballooning outwards from it, darkening the room in the throbs.?# Undoubtedly, this sentence flows wonderfully, and propels you through the pages quickly, but it also makes it quite hard to pick the book up again after a long break. When you tend to feel events rather than be told them, it becomes harder to remind yourself of exactly where you are in the story. This style also leaves me feeling that McEwan is a little too aware of his own intelligence in his flowery use of English. When reading the book I was always very aware of my position as a reader rather than being totally absorbed within the plot. For me, this self-conscious style of writing is not particularly endearing as it feels like his book is being used to bolster his ego rather than purely to tell a good story in an intriguing way; which is undoubtedly what McEwan comes so close to doing. Particularly impressive are parts two and three of the book which are set in 1940.One concerns one man?s involvement in the Second World War and focuses on the dirtier elements of warfare, acting as a welcome reminder that war is not all about a group of men united in their goal to defeat the enemy. But, by far the most shocking and absorbing section is the third part where a trainee nurse tends the wounded. These have to be the most graphic descriptions of the consequences of war that I have ever read. At this point any criticisms of McEwan?s prose drift away as it tightens to gut wrenching proportions. Atonement is a story about taking responsibility for your actions and making reparations even if that means that some come long after the event. A couple of my criticisms could be forgiven in the light of the books final section, which puts the proceedings in context. These criticisms might make you think that I disliked McEwan?s book, but I feel that is far from the truth. I?m purely being harsh in evaluating it because instead of
being a great book this is purely a good one. McEwan does manage to create an atmosphere of dread that is truly palpable and an absorbing story with an interesting structure. I just would be a lot happier if he would let us see his intelligence through the quality of his prose and the depth of his research rather than his linguistic prowess. I?m sure the depth in ?Atonement? would stand up to an interesting second read, but unfortunately this style stops me from making that second journey. * Chambers Dictionery # P14, Vintage ISBN 0-099-42979-9, 372pp, £7.99
The terms masterpiece, classic, work of genius are so overused these days that they have become little more than anther tool in the armoury of the publisher’s PR department. We simply can’t tell what the long term effect of a book will be, whether it will still be important decades or centuries from now. Bearing this in mind if I had to make a guess then I think ‘Atonement’ stands a very good chance of passing the test of time and becoming worthy of being classified as a classic for the new millennium. THE STORY Briony Tallis is a young girl on the threshold of becoming a teenager. Three distinct parts of her life are highlighted from the mid 1930’s when she and her wealthy family live in an idyllic country setting, through to the start of WW2 and later into the 1990’s towards the end of her life. Two other major character appear Cecelia, Briony’s elder sister and Robbie Turner a long standing friend of the girls who since the disappearance of his father has to a great extent been adopted by the family as one of their own. We begin in a long hot summer of 1934, the Tallis family are gathered at the family home, a large estate in the country. Cecelia has just finished her degree at Cambridge and is now wondering what the future holds for her. Robbie also down from Cambridge is on the verge of entering medical school and Briony excited by the arrival of her older brother Leon is busy setting up a play with the help of her visiting cousins Lola and the twins Jackson and Pierrot. Briony like many girls of her age is concerned with romance and has an idyllic vision of what love should be like, she fancies herself as a writer and the play she intend to perform is suitably a melodrama involving a tragic love story that in the end resolves itself with a happy ending. On the afternoon of Leon’s arrival there is tension in the air. Briony becomes frustrated with her attemp
ts to put on the play, Cecelia is worried about what path her future should take and Robbie who is helping to landscape the garden of the country house is preparing himself for the big step of staring medical school. The stifling heat makes the situation worse and then suddenly something happens, witnessed by Briony that will irrevocably change all their lives forever. In the second part of the book we move on a few years to the start of WW2 and we find ourselves with the English soldiers in France at the time of the desperate Dunkirk retreat. Without telling you how the stories are connected I’ll simply say that the reader becomes a witness to the horrors of the war and the events leading up to Dunkirk through the eyes of three soldiers, leaderless and lost in enemy territory desperate to stay alive in the face of German bombardment. The final segment of the story although not actually the final part of book takes back to war torn London just before the Blitz takes place. We find Briony, now a young woman working as a trainee nurse facing the horror of treating the multitude of casualties that flood into the London hospitals after the Dunkirk retreat has been completed. Briony has seemingly sacrificed the possibility of studying at university and the possibility of developing a career as writer in order to devoted herself to caring for others in part to atone for a tragic mistake that she made years earlier that led to the ruin of those she loved. The end of the book takes the form of an epilogue, which on the surface aims to answer the many questions that the narrative poses but in the end leaves many questions unanswered. MY OPINION ‘Atonement’ is really three stories in one longer book within yet another novel! It is a tribute to Ian McEwan’s skill as a storyteller that this complicated structure appears seamless and easy to accept. Each part of the book offers up a different pleasure
and each is in sharp contrast with the others. The first part on the face of it is a traditional eighteen-century novel. An idyllic setting, the beautiful English countryside, a wealthy family gathering on a hot summers day, but soon we sense that not is all is quite right. It is too hot, the country house is ugly and the wealth of the family is newly acquired, there is unhappiness and deceit just below the surface of every aspect of the scene that is being set. This part of the story is an attempt by McEwan to explore the psychology of the characters; it provides an effective insight into their thoughts and their motivations reminiscent of classic authors of the past such as Edith Wharton, Fitzgerald or Austen. The detail present here is essential for the rest of the story to be effective. As you read the elegant descriptive prose you can’t avoid an uncomfortable feeling, which increases slowly but surely, mirroring the pace of the story, as each character is delved in to more deeply. Then with just one word everything changes. As if waking from a dream you are thrown into a stark reality that is difficult to accept of understand. The pace of the narrative increases and you are kept of the edge of your seat waiting for an outcome. McEwan has structured this part of the novel perfectly, no sentences, no words are wasted. By the end of the first 50 pages you feel as if you know the characters by the end of 100 pages you are totally immersed in their story. I feel McEwan uses the setting to make a point about the changing of the society that occurs with the onset of the war and by making the wealth and tranquillity of life at that time very superficial he is also telling us how fragile the peace and security that we all like to feel can be. The scenes having been set McEwan moves us on with uncompromising realism to the war itself. The retreat of Dunkirk so often described in the past as a glorious episode of the war is see
n here as an unmitigated tragedy for those involved. As the French army collapsed against the German forces, the British soon are also overwhelmed by superior firepower. The line of command seems to collapse and soldiers spread across Northern France made a desperate run across country to reach the Channel beaches and the possibility of survival and a return home. This journey was not easy; the Germans chased and attacked the retreating soldiers and any civilians with them killing many, injuring many more. The death and destruction is described with a realism and insight reminiscent of Hemingway at his best. This is not a war about troops, weapons or military objectives but about people doing what it takes to stay alive about bodies being left to decompose by the side of the road about families being torn apart by senseless acts of violence. Considering what is happening in the Middles East right now this part of the book has an even greater resonance for the reader. As the story moves on to the post Dunkirk scenes in London we see another aspect of war, the aftermath of battle. We see this through the eyes of the carer the hundreds and thousands of mostly young women who have to cope with situations that they would be totally unprepared for. In many cases there is little for them to do but give comfort to dying soldier often no older than them. There are a number of very moving scenes that McEwan uses to counter the horror of the previous sections and that he also uses to bring the character of Briony (only eighteen at this stage) to maturity. The prose is beautiful throughout. The narrative whether emotionally charged, harrowing or descriptive is always gripping. The story is littered with episodes that will cause the reader to reappraise his view of events and a few unexpected twists to completely destroy any preconceived ideas of where story is leading. In the end a resolution is achieved and in a strange way you are brought back to where you
started, at the same time the conclusion is not clear and McEwan as succeeded in instilling doubt about the final outcome and about the nature of the novel itself. As the title suggests the book is about atonement for ones mistakes but the way a person can achieve this is at issue and whether one can ever be successful is also brought into question. This is a book that will appeal to many different tastes; it is a love story, a war story, a coming of age story and mystery. On another level it is a serious piece of literature and McEwan not only gives us an very enjoyable and challenging read but also test the accepted assumptions of the traditional novel by playing with the relationship between author and reader. ‘Atonement’ is certainly McEwan’s best novel and for me ranks as one of the best books I have read recently. I can certainly recommend this, go out and read it! ‘Atonement’ is available in paperback (384 pages) Published by Vintage ISBN: 0099429799 you can buy it from Amzon.co.uk for £6.39 (+p & p). Thanks for reading and rating this opinion! © Mauri 2003
Like a lot of people I am sure, this was the first ian McEwan book I had read. i work in a bookshop and noticed how it was literally walking out the door and everyone was talking about it so I picked it up and started reading. What struck me initially was how expansive the novel is - it moves from family relationships to the large-scale setting of the world war. Characterisation, plot structure and all the usual are all highly commendable however it was something else that really struck a chord with me. There is a line near the start when Briony starts moving her finger and pondering about the 'moment of intent' e.g. it is the second when you decide to move your finger that makes it move and that moment is so powerful. I found it interesting at the time, but it was only a couple of weeks after finishing the book that it struck me just what an impact it has on the book as a whole, as it is indeed the moment when you decide to do something (in Briony's case when she lies about Robbie Turner) that has such a great effect and such a big impact. It is actually the moment of intent that causes so many rifts and developments and indeed the entire story of Atonement. I intend to return to the book soon and reread it as i feel it will probably reveal something else every time you open it.
'Atonement' is first Ian McEwan novel I've read and in the moments that followed turning the final page I can honestly say it is with great regret that it has taken me this long to become acquainted with his work. Such is the impeccable characterisation, the tightly controlled prose and the sumptuous description that the reader is willingly fed, the plaudits attributed to this novel have been totally vindicated and are wholly deserved. Like Sebastian Faulks, McEwan returns to the heart of middle-class England in 1935 where 13 year-old Briony Tallis and her family are holding a family gathering with their cousins from the North of England. Briony is intending on performing her latest play, 'The Trials of Arabella' whilst casting her cousins in different parts but whilst her ambition is tempered by their distinct lack of enthusiasm, she later finds an audience in the most surprising of circumstances. Also attending this meeting are Celia Tallis, a recent Cambridge graduate, who is accompanied by her close friend Robbie Turner, an English graduate planning a career in the field of medicine. The pres-cis on the back of the hardback edition hints less than subtly as to what lies at the heart of this novel but that is an issue that I intend to steer clear of. Quite simply, McEwan actively encourages the reader's own exploration with promises of glorious prose and a rewarding conclusion to those that take up the challenges within these perfectly-toned pages. McEwan manages to maintain what seems to be a recent tradition amongst English novelists by taking his readers to the foreign battlefields of France at the height of the warfare but, significantly, refuses to concern himself with epic conflicts and heroic rescues. Whilst the reader unavoidably becomes emotionally entangled with the soldiers, it is their mental trauma and horrors that are brought to the fore whilst the writer's pen is wielded as expertly as the surgeon's
scalpel in the military hospital where Briony ends up working. At this point you could be forgiven that this has become a war novel or a romance but in all honesty it is hard to try and pin down what genre 'Atonement' occupies. There are times when is it none of these, other times it promises to evolve into one or the other but each potential development is simply a bandage covering the deeper wounds that lie beneath the surface. I confess that this review will shed little light on the actual narrative and plot of this novel but then to reveal it would be a tragedy as well as a travesty. You will have to persevere with 'Atonement' but there are certainly rewards to be reaped by the end. Many people have told me that this is the culmination of McEwan's previous works, that it is his finest work to date but since this is my first experience of his novels I'm not at liberty to agree or disagree. What I can say is that this is a novel that should be read, reread and then treasured.
"Atonement" is Ian McEwan's latest novel and according to the jacket of the hardback edition, "his finest achievement".
The first part of the story opens on the hottest day of 1935. Thirteen year old Briony Tallis watches from a distance as her Cambridge graduate sister, Cecilia, strips off to her underwear in front of Cecilia's childhood friend and fellow Cambridge graduate, Robbie Turner, before plunging into the fountain in the garden of the Tallis' country house. That evening, Briony finds her 15 year old cousin, Lola, in the garden, preporting to have been raped. Brimming with the imagination of a would-be novelist, Briony sees the culprit and believes it to be Robbie, who is later convicted of the crime.
Part 2 is an account of Robbie's part in the Allied retreat to Dunkirk, having been released from prison in order to fight the Nazis. He is maintained only by his love for Cecilia who has cut herself off from the family who condemned Robbie and supported Briony.
Part 3 is Briony's version of the war effort. Having sacrificed a place at Cambridge to become a nurse she tracks down Cecilia and Robbie who she finds living together not very comfortably in London. Confronting them both, she apologises for what she did but it is not until the short, concluding Part 4 of the book that the true nature of Briony's atonement becomes clear.
I have to say I found the rape allergation a little unconvincing and this inevitably undermined much of what followed. That said, "Atonement" contains some of McEwan's most beautiful and moving writing. I should confess a certain bias: I've followed McEwan's career from the beginning in 1973 with his short stories, "First Love", "Last Rites" and then "In Between the Sheets". In my view, his fondness for tales with a twist at the end has never worked as well in the later novels as with those early short sto
ries - that is until now.
What can one say about Ian McEwan that won't be cliched or, worse, seen as Jill-bashing? We can roll out cliches till the sheep come home (or was it the cows? Englishmen and -women, please come to my rescue... enlighten me!): "McEwan one either loves or hates"; "McEwan's writing is lush, metaphoric"; "McEwan's cruel streak shines again"... Yet cliches, as I so love to repeat in my every other op - and as adapted from Kurt Andersen's novel 'Turn of the Century' (which reminds me, I should write an op on that excellent book one day) -, very often are true. That is why they become cliches. And truly, truly, truly, there's no other way I could think of to start off my ATONEMENT op but by saying that Ian McEwan is an author one either loves or hates - there's no middle way. [Ok, now do I get the award for the longest-winded getting-to-the-point introduction in the history of dooyoo? Do I or don't I? Don't say I don't else I'll replace the above with an even longer-winded intro - you have been warned.] My all-time McEwan favourite is 'Amsterdam', so let's be clear about that. And please do not even attempt to debase said novel unless you want a hysterical red-eyed fellow charging up your doorstep with murderous intents...the Crowns debate will be the least of your worries at that point, believe me... 'Enduring Love', probably his most successful novel, sales-wise, is a close second. So it should come as no surprise that as soon as his latest, much-hyped novel, ATONEMENT, was published in hardback, I couldn't wait for the paperback and bought it. Or rather, to be precise, got it as a present from my prescient and loving wifey. [Thanks a million!] For the record, ATONEMENT was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2001 - although having won a couple of years back with 'Amsterdam' there were no lollipops for guessing McEwan wouldn't get a se
cond 'jaggy bonnet' (with apologies to Ken) from the Booker gurus. It was also nominated for a host of other, lesser and not-so-lesser, awards. And in case you're wondering, the paperback is due out in May. So there. In typical McEwan style, ATONEMENT picks as its focal point a seemingly trivial insignificant detail, out of which nothing much could plausibly happen, and proceeds to construct around this detail an intricate web of consequences and counter-consequences, resulting in some dramatic event which totally overshadows in scope and gravity the original detail. However, and this is McEwan's great talent, in so doing he makes the whole affair seem logical and real. The reader's disbelief is suspended so that, reading of the cataclysm - which incidentally becomes as inevitable as it is clearly foretellable - one cannot but think "wow, such scary things may happen from such a small detail". Wow! Ian you're magical! Actually - and here I'm mixing the sacred with the profane, if all science buffs will forgive my impertinence - this McEwanism reminds me of a popular colloquialisation of chaos theory (an item of quantum physics): If a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, a storm breaks out in India*. Well folks, McEwanism is just that! [*acknowledgement to dooyoo-er sgrup] The trivial event in ATONEMENT is the spying, by young Briony, in her parents' luxuriant country manor in England of 1935, of her elder sister Cecilia stripping off and jumping into the garden fountain in front of bystander Robbie Turner, the low-class neighbour's well-educated son. Briony, who at her tender age can interpret and understand and reason out the entire gamut of human emotions (or so she thinks, conceited brat that she is) except love, misinterprets totally and disastrously the situation. From there on, a series of events and coincidences lead to a momentous heat-infested evening in the manor, when Ce
cilia's and Robbie's futures, together and individually, are placed at the absolute mercy of Briony. The mistake Briony makes (but was it a mistake? the author, after all, calls it "Briony's crime") has such incredible consequences that she spends all the rest of her life trying to atone (hence the title, of course) for her error. The book is divided into three parts (and an epilogue). The first part, which sets the scene and re-enacts the misunderstood event and the mistake/crime of little Briony, is easily the longest and least eventful. Reading through the first ten chapters or so, one could be forgiven for abandoning the book for want of anything happening. Oh, the undercurrents are there all right - but otherwise, it's basically watching a pendulum swing... Things get moving in the last chapters of the first part. Then the second part brings a total change of ambience, character and mood. This is perhaps the best part of the novel, for sheer intensity of writing. The third part, set on the eve of the commencement of the bombings of London by the Nazis, closes the circle... nearly. Loose ends are finally tied up in the epilogue, with the usual McEwan twist (though it's more of a bend than a fully-fledged twist, to be honest). Who should read this? All McEwan fans, of course. But beyond them/us, those who like to immerse themselves in luxuriant writing will enjoy this.... although, truth be told, McEwan could legitimately be accused of slightly overstepping the mark in this novel, and showing off his admittedly incredible mastery of the English language more than was stricly necessary. The writing in 'Enduring Love' and 'Amsterdam' was more natural than this. Those who enjoy a gripping, no-holds-barred plot, the page-turner so to speak, will not be too overjoyed with this book - especially with the first third of the novel. Those, on the other hand, for whom reading usually
includes a dose of psycho-analysis of characters, their behaviour and its consequences, will devour ATONEMENT. Briony's lifelong process of atonement is brought out masterfully. 'Tis the touch of the master, to translate literally an Italian expression. And with these words of ...ahem... wisdom, I leave you to your reading. Au revoir...
A story that begins with three young people in the garden of a country house on the hottest day of 1935, and ends with three profoundly changed lives. A depiction of love and war, class, childhood and England, that explores shame and forgiveness, atonement and the possibility of absolution.