Sunday, May 20, 2007

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement by Ian McEwan
Anchor Books, 2001
Fiction; 351 pgs

Started: 05/07/2007
Completed: 05/19/2007
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.

Read what Melody has to say:
Melody's Reading Corner


  1. this sounds good-- I just discovered your blog and will enjoy going thru it.

  2. I have this scheduled for my TBR Challenge to read later this year. I'm glad that you enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to reading it - I might have to move it up the pile a little.

  3. Another great review, Wendy! This is, of course, on my wish list - it sounds like a book I'll love.

  4. Great review, Wendy! This sounds good; I'll have to look out for it. :)

  5. Wow, this does sound like a good read, Wendy! I recently read his "On Chesil Beach" and my first reaction was similar to yours in that, I found his writing was very nice (actually I would prefer to steal your word "pretty" to describe it)but the story wouldn't move along fast enough.

    I have had "Atonement" sitting here for the longest time, your review makes me want to give it a whirl!

  6. I really liked ATONEMENT. Someone just gave me McEwan's SATURDAY so I'll have to get to that next.

  7. I read SATURDAY this past year and have ATONEMENT on my TBR Challenge list. I am looking forward to reading it this summer. I agree with your comments about his writing style.

  8. D - Thank you for visiting. I hope you will come again.

    Lynne - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I know that it's gotten mixed reviews from fellow readers, but I think it's worth the time.

    Wendy - Thank you! I do think you would like it. :-)

    Melody - Thanks! One of the great things about litblogs are the number of books we can add to our wishlist! Or is that a disadvantage? LOL

    Lotus - I was wondering about his other books. I have Saturday among by TBR books, but I have only heard talk about that and Atonement.

    Malady - If you get to Saturday before I do, I'd be interested to know what you think of it. It's one I really want to read.

    Bookinhand - Thank you for visiting! I hope you will enjoy Atonement as much as I did.

  9. I loved the first half of this book and didn't like the second half. It just seemed like two different stories and slightly disjointed to me. That said, it's beautifully written and I did finish it.

  10. I read 'Saturday' and thought it was kind of silly (but not in a good way), but that hasn't put me off McEwan. I intend to read this one too before I make up my mind about him, because you are right, Kitty, he is a great writer.

  11. Thank you for this beautifully written review. This book is on the TBR shelf and I know I've got to get to it one of these days.

  12. Karen - Almost the opposite of me. Haha I liked the second half better. :-)

    Kookie - From the reading gossip I have heard the books are different enough and so you may find you like Atonement despite not caring for Saturday. Hopefully.

    Tara - Thanks, Tara. If your TBR collection is anything like mine, "one of these days" could be anywhere from tomorrow to a few years from now. Haha I do hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

  13. Marvelous review!! I enjoyed reading all the details, reliving the story that I so loved when it first came out (actually, I think I had an ARC). It was my #1 read that year and I've often thought about reading it again. I, too, loved Robbie's story in Dunkirk. McEwan pulled me in from the get-go, but the war scenes had me captivated. And, yes, the ironic ending was superb (although many readers were critical of this, as I recall). Thanks for the lovely review. Try Saturday next. I thought the writing in it came close to that of Atonement. I didn't much care for Amsterdam.

  14. Lovely review. This is one I *really* need to bump up on my stacks.

  15. I didn't like Atonement very well, although I do plan on reading another McEwan before I totally discount him.

    I am one who definitely preferred the second half to the first half.

  16. Great review--this one is on my nightstand--I just need to work down a bit in my "to be read pile"

  17. Les - Thank you so much! About the ending, I can see it attracting criticism, but I felt it fit perfectly considering who are storyteller was. I'm looking forward to reading Saturday. I doubt I'll wait to long to dive into that one.

    Andi - Thank you. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

    3M - I know this one has gotten a lot of mixed reviews from what I can tell. I guess it's one of those that requires a certain taste. Like coffee. :-)

    Sage - Thank you. I do hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

  18. I've been waffling about whether to add this one to the list, but after reading your review, I think I should give it a try. Thanks.

  19. I read this book last year (after choosing it for one of my book club's selections) and loved it. I have a couple of his other books on my shelves but haven't read them yet. It seems everything but Atonement has gotten very mixed reviews, and that's scared me off a bit.

  20. Framed - I hope you do give it a try and enjoy it as much as I did.

    Lesley - I'm like that too. I'll read one book I love by an author but not get to the other book(s) on my shelf right away for one reason or another. I am glad you enjoyed Atonement too!

  21. Interesting that you found the war part the most evocative; I was a bit impatient during that section, by that stage, I just wanted to find out how it ended!

    Great explication of the book; it was thought-provoking.

  22. Have you watched the movie yet? I have not but want to. I hear it's well done.

    I thought the beginning moved slowly, too. The entire first section, in fact, where they were children living at home, I had a hard time getting through but then things really picked up and I couldn't put this book down.

    On Chesil Beach, by McEwan, is very good also.

  23. Shana - I saw the movie this past winter and really enjoyed it. I thought they did a good job of translating the book into film. As much as they could, anyway. I am looking forward to reading On Chesil Beach.


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