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Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war childhood and class guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English proseOn a hot summer day in 1935 thirteen year old Briony Tallis witnesses the flirtation between her older sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner the son of a servant But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century


10 thoughts on “Atonement

  1. says:

    There are many reviews already of this book and I did wonder whether the world needed any But I disagree so strongly with some of the opinions expressed that I'm afraid I have to exercise my right to reply Two things in particular stand out Let me deal with the simpler one first Some people seem appalled that the author is putting the guilt for this dreadful tragedy on the shoulders of a young girl She didn't know what she was doing they say she was too young to understand the import of her actions and we shouldn't hold her responsible Well it seems to me that this is completely beside the point The novel we finally learn has been written by the girl herself She's giving herself the blame for what happened She's evidently spent her whole life wondering why she behaved the way she did and she still doesn't really know She's just trying to get the story as straight as she can mainly so that she can understand it herself and I found her efforts extremely moving If anyone is claiming that people don't behave this way all I can say is that their view of human nature is so different from mine that it'll be hard to have a meaningful conversation on the subject So now the second and controversial part Many reviewers dislike the post modernist aspects They complain that McEwan is taking a perverse pleasure in tricking the reader into a view of the story which is finally revealed as incorrect that he's playing the unreliable narrator card out of sheer willfulness Again I completely disagree I don't think these aspects of the book are irrelevant or peripheral I think they're at the very core of it and are what make it a great piece of literature McEwan shows us a girl who becomes an author precisely because she wants to expiate the dreadful feelings of guilt she has suffered all her life He lets her explain how it happened in what we eventually discover is a book within a book And the truly awful thing is that she can't do it She cops out with a fake happy ending because she still can't face what she didI don't think this is a trick I think he's saying something about the very nature of writing Many many writers are like Briony They write to absolve themselves of their guilt but in the end they don't say what they want to say It's too horrible to write down They skirt around the issues and end up presenting them in a favourable light If they're lucky they may finally reach an age when they are so far removed from what happened that they can tell the story straight This is what Briony does in the postscript and I don't find it far fetched To take just one example the first I happen to think of look at Marguerite Duras All her life she kept thinking about her first love affair and it coloured most of what she wrote It was only when she was nearly 70 that she could set it down as L'AmantBefore the events of the fountain Briony was indeed just a little girl all she could write was the amusingly mediocre Arabella Afterwards she had something that was worth saying though it took a long time to figure out how to do that When she'd completed her task she was able to get back to the one she was engaged in when she was interrupted I love the circular structure which ends with Arabella being staged 60 years late Of the many infuriating changes in the movie version I think I was most annoyed by the removal of this key sceneWood burns observes Monty Python's logician as he gives an example of an incorrect syllogism therefore all that burns is wood Similarly the fact that much trickery is post modern does not imply that all post modernism is trickery This is a great and heart felt novel