Monday, April 14, 2008


Atonement by Ian McEwan is unquestionably a brilliant novel. Originally published in 2001, my hardcover edition is 351 pages. This feels like a much longer novel than it really is due to McEwan's masterful writing. In Atonement, McEwan has written an incredible novel with fine characterization and a gripping plot. The themes question truth, justice, guilt, innocence, punishment, and, ultimately, atonement. This is a story told in three parts, with a final much shorter fourth section that ends the story.

Part one takes place in 1935. In part one thirteen year old Briony, allows her over active imagination to misinterpret actions between Robbie, a life long family friend, and her older sister, Cecilia. This is when Briony commits her crime, which you can see coming but know the characters are powerless to stop the inevitable conclusion to the events set into motion. McEwan tells this story from shifting points of view and captures the tensions in this upper middle class family. In part two, in 1940, five years after the crime, Robbie, now a footsoldier is retreating from the French countryside to Dunkirk. The horrors of war are masterfully but tragically captured. In part three, a young adult Briony is atoning for her earlier crime by working as a student nurse, rather than studying to be a writer. This section has Briony tending the casualties of war and confronting the implications of her crime and how it effected the lives of Cecelia and Robbie. The ending takes place in 1999, at Briony's 77th birthday party, and brings the past and present together. This is where you see clearly her atonement. A very highly recommended novel. Rating: 5

Quotes (notice McEwan's beautiful, descriptive writing.):

"She was one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world just so. Whereas her big sister's room was a stew of unclosed books, unfolded clothes, unmade bed, unemptied ashtrays, Briony's was a shrine to her controlling demon: the model farm spread across a deep window ledge consisted of the usual animals, but all facing one way - toward their owner - as if about to break into song, and even the farmyard hens were neatly corralled. In fact, Briony's was the only tidy upstairs room in the house." pg. 4-5

"She wanted to leave, she wanted to lie alone, facedown on her bed and savor the vile piquancy of the moment, and go back down the lines of branching consequences to the point before the destruction began. She needed to contemplate with eyes closed the full richness of what she had lost, what she had given away, and to anticipate the new regime." pg. 14

"She also knew that whatever actually happened drew it's significance from her published work and would not have been remembered without it.
However, she could not betray herself completely; there could be no doubt that some kind of revelation occurred." pg. 39

"In front of her, illuminated by the lowering sun, was a cloud of insects, each one bobbing randomly, as though fixed on an invisible elastic string - a mysterious courtship dance, or sheer insect exuberance that defied her to find a meaning. In a spirit of mutinous resistance, she climbed the steep grassy slope to the bridge, and when she stood on the driveway, she decided she would stay there and wait until something significant happened to her. This was the challenge she was putting to existence - she would not stir, not for dinner, not even for her mother calling her in. She would simply wait on the bridge, calm and obstinate, until events, real events, not her own fantasies, rose to her challenge, and dispelled her insignificance." pg. 72

"She wondered whether having a final responsibility for someone, even a creature like a horse or a dog, was fundamentally opposed to the wild and inward journey of writing." pg. 149

"From this new and intimate perspective, she learned a simple, obvious thing she had always known, and everyone knew: a person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn, not easily mended." pg. 287

1 comment:

Memories of yesterday said...

Oh! I recently got this movie but still haven't watched it yet. (stop cringing ;D)