Atonement by Ian McEwan
Anchor Books, 2001
Fiction; 351 pgs
Rating: (Very Good +)
First Sentence: The play—for which Briony had designed the posters, programs, and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crêpe paper—was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.
Reason for Reading: A couple of years ago, a reading buddy of mine (Christine) recommended I read Atonement. When the TBR Challenge came around, I knew that this was my chance to get to at least twelve of the books that I have been eager to read, however, have not managed to do so. Atonement is my 5th TBR Challenge selection and my 5th selection for the Spring Reading Thing.
Comments: As I first began reading Atonement, I got lost in the author’s prose. Ian McEwan has a way with words. I commented to my husband at one point that the writing was “pretty”, not in any way meant to be an insult, but simply because each sentence flowed through me and had a melodious quality. The author’s writing was not overly indulgent and fit the story well. Not every writer can carry it off. Ian McEwan did.
Although I felt myself pulled into the story by the writing style in the beginning, I soon found myself wishing the story would move a little faster during the first 50 or so pages. The author takes his time introducing the characters and setting the stage, which I later came to appreciate and by the end felt was done exactly right.
It was impossible not to be swept up in the story and the lives of the characters the more I read. I felt the guilt and frustration of so many of the characters as they suffered and survived through the consequences set in motion by the accusation of a 13 year old girl in the summer of 1935. In innocence and misunderstanding, people’s lives are irrevocably changed by the assumptions made.
Set in the English countryside with the threat of war in the air, the characters come to life: Emily and Jack, the parents, distant from one another and from their children, Jack taking advantage of a physical distance that his job allows for and Emily distancing herself with her illness, deluding herself that she is there when her children need her. There is Cecilia, the older sister who is still working out what it is she wants to do in life, wanting to be free of the motherly role she has been cast in and yet afraid still of going out on her own. She is conflicted by her feelings in love and life. Robbie is much more confident, knowing what it is he wants. He is in love, tormented and yet thrilled. He has high hopes for the future and the support of Jack Tallis who has taken him under his wing. Then there is Briony who at 13 still has a child’s innocence and yet is beginning to feel the pull of the adult world that will one day be her own. She often loses herself to her imagination, weaving stories of her own both in writing and in thought.
The cousins, Lola, Jackson and Pierrot, are sent to the Tallis’ home during a tumultuous time in their lives when their parents’ marriage dissolved. They are confused, angry and hurt. Lola, at 15, wants nothing more than to be a part of the grown-up world. The younger twins hate their circumstances and rebel as much as they try to fit in in their own way.
The Tallis brother, Leon, and his friend Marshall enter the scene for a visit. Leon had struck out on his own path, and his presence is highly anticipated by his sisters, who adore him.
As the story unravels, the die is cast. The author takes the reader into France during the Second World War as British troops flee for the coast in hopes of surviving the German invasion. The horrors of war, the desperation and the will to survive are ever present. This was my favorite part of the story with its detail and raw emotion. It is Robbie’s story. As he leads his fellow soldiers to the coast, he recalls the past, the direction his life has taken, and where he will go from there.
Back in England, Briony, now grown, has set out on her own, and in many ways, she is following the path of her estranged sister. She struggles with the weight of the untold truth, now fully understanding the mistakes she has made. Can she atone for her actions? Will there be forgiveness?
With tears filling my eyes, I closed the cover of the novel having reached the end. The characters had become a part of my life for a short while, their suffering and experiences my own. My first experience with Ian McEwan has been a great success. I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.
Favorite Part: I like the way the story ended. It had an irony to it that was quite fitting to the tale from the perspective the story was told. It had symmetry to it, you could say. Do not worry, no spoilers offered here.
For some reason, I was most pulled into the war scenes, the time Robbie spent in France, traveling toward the coast than any other part of the book. It was a time for reflection on Robbie’s part and through that, an unfolding of several events that took place since that fateful night five years before. I could not help but see the contrast in the writing at this point as well. As beautiful a writer as Ian McEwan proved to be in this novel, he still captured the horrors of the war and all that Robbie saw and experienced with great clarity.
Take a look at the the author’s website to learn more about the author and his writings.
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