5 star rating would be ideal I am extremely ambivalent about this novel first the pluses the writing is gorgeous McEwan has some of the best prose out there Every line has meat to it, nothing is throwaway, and every visual is so vivid that the reader is transported to a specific time and place Secondly, what everyone praises the novel for , the commentary McEwan is making about the novel itself the fact that it is written, that characters and plots are manipulated by the author, and how a real character emerges eventually while at the same a written story exists too This is very difficult to write about without revealing anything about the plot, but as one reads the novel, it becomes clear what McEwan is trying to do Finally, the references to other literature including some of the best novels Clarissa, Lolita and novelists Elizabeth Bowen is directly mentioned, Henry Green and Virginia Woolf are obvious influences is fluid, never forced, and is done to showcase a love of literature At the same time, there are downsides to McEwan s endeavor how to write a novel that is commenting on its obvious falsity its construction as fiction , while at the same time trying to convey reality This is perhaps an impossible task, and I m left with the nagging feeling that the novel wants to have its cake and eat it too The characters and situations are so obviously phony that it becomes distracting in the first part of the story I was drawn in by the fantastic writing, but then found myself wanting to hurl the novel across the room at some of the ridiculous choices by both the characters and the novelist Namely 1 The main plot twist makes little realistic sense Absolutely zero would fly in a mystery novel let alone real life 2 The characters in the first part are boring aristocrats who we don t care about check out a Henry Green novel except in his novels, the reader continues to laugh at them, there is no attempt at emotional attachment 3 The mystery s solution is obvious to the reader before the crime even happens 4 Briony part 1 is an insufferable narrator as kid narrators, To Kill a Mockingbird excluded, so often are 5 The novelist s choice to name a sexually, precocious teenager Lola too obvious a reference But these choices are meant to be ridiculous reality is only supposed to set in in the epilogue At the same time, I marveled at how real parts 2 Robbie at war and 3 Briony as a nurse some of the hospital scenes are the best I ve ever read seemed to be Then the question became for me if they seemed real because of the way the scenes were written the gore again in the hospital , but could not have been real because the characters and overall plot of the Tallis family are so fake, isn t that cheating I haven t reached a conclusion yet, but something is still bugging me about the conception of it Ultimately I prefer novels that go the opposite route Paul Auster s Oracle Night for example that start out real and quickly become fake, or throw out the idea of a realistic, consistent plot entirely only in the conclusion does David Mitchell s Cloud Atlas come together , rather than the never ending is it real is it fake push and pull of Atonement.
The subject matter of Atonement is literature itself, but it is muchFirst, the writer is one of its characters second, because Ian McEwan s novel creates a world where subjectivity and objectivity interfere mutually The characters are full of life and the language, even if elaborate and subtle, does not go around or makes inroads into itself.
The narrator and protagonist, Briony Tallis, emerges in the beginner as a pre adolescent that dreams to arrange the world in her texts, as in the play she is writing Her love for order, for the careful design according to her spoiled desires, is translated into an impulse to write that hardly depend on the themeThere did not have to be a moral She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive It wasn t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding, above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value That was the only moral a story need haveHer cousins, Lola, and the twins will be the actors, with which she plans to awe the assembled family, that include her parents, her older sister Cecily and the son of the housekeeper, Robbie On that day of 1935, Briony sees Cecily and Robbie in a game that culminates in a fateful scene Briony believes she sees something that profoundly perturbs her The development of the story doesn t let the reader stop When, later, Lola is raped by a man that was not seen, Briony, without any grounds, makes adeductionof who committed the crime.
Here we are, therefore, in the territory of Jane Austen, cited in the epigraph, or Henry James, George Eliot, and many other English authors social tension versus sexual stress, pride and prejudice conflicts, mere misunderstandings that adopt dramatic dimensions McEwan considers the simple distortions that physical acts, such as vision, can suffer when clouded by moral bias Briony is attracted to Robbie and envies in Cecily her independence and, and in her anxiety to wipe out her shortcomings recreates the world in her own way, succumbing to prejudice and threatening her already reduced capacity to accept reality.
But,than that, what McEwan shows is how a writer can worsen weaknesses such as vanity, cowardice and credulity, sentiments that derive from the solitary and fallible condition that is above all human Briony, with an absent father, a sick mother, a distant brother and an adult sister, fills her solitude with words that want to arrange everything, as she organizes her roomBut hidden drawers, lockable diaries and cryptographic systems could not conceal from Briony the simple truth she had no secrets Her wish for a harmonious, organised world denied her the reckless possibilities of wrongdoing Mayhem and destruction were too chaotic for her tastes, and she did not have it in her to be cruel Her effective status as an only child, as well as the relative isolation of the Tallis house, kept her, at least during the long summer holidays, from girlish intrigues with friends Nothing in her life was sufficiently interesting or shameful to merit hiding no one knew about the squirrel s skull beneath her bed, but no one wanted to knowShe is emotionally deprived as all of us, but a few degrees above the Richer scale her need to be praised, her inability to deal with her environment, her surrendering to a fantasy of perfection it is as if she were an immature child, seeking protection from life itself However, the novel goes beyond an intimate recounting In the second half, McEwan throws the reader into the Second World War, with memorable descriptions of the United Kingdom s empire ultimate whisper at the battle of Dunkirk McEwan uses this as background to show us Robbie s feelings Among dead and wounded, he drifts with his head down and wrapped in his own sentiments to protect himself and to dream he will be exonerated for having survived in a battle where so many had diedNow he reduced his progress to the rhythm of his boots he walked across the land until he came to the sea Everything that impeded him had to be outweighed, even if only by a fraction, by all that drove him on He knew by heart certain passages from her letters, he had revisited their tussle with the vase by the fountain, he remembered the warmth from her arm at the dinner when the twins went missing These memories sustained him, but not so easilyBut what rots and sustains him is his hate for BrionyIn that shrinking moment he discovered that he had never hated anyone until now It was a feeling as pure as love, but dispassionate and icily rationalAbove everythingLet his name be cleared and everyone else adjust their thinking He had put in time, now they must do the work His business was simple Find Cecilia and love her, marry her and live without shameThe ability of McEwan is very well known, but in Atonement he arrived were he had not reached before and where few living authors maybe Coetzee, Philip Roth and a few others were able to arrive The force of his narrative comes from its plot and its magnitude as well as from its richness and structure The story is strong, but who narrates is not subservient to its hierarchy and its rhythm it s a subject that lets it flow and, at the same time, chooses the moments and the way to reveal its parts McEwan does not need to resort to fragmentation and mysticism to deal with the battle between affection and speech, tolerance and freedom, a clash so in evidence nowadays.
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 , 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 That I can remember, I ve never before disliked the start of a book so thoroughly, and by the end, gone on to think so much of it as a complete work.
The last 2 3 of this novel are as good as contemporary fiction gets The first 1 3 is like reading a Jane Austen plot trapped in amber.
As the title indicates Atonement is about a future artist s massive effort to redeem herself for ruining the character of a young man when she is a younger girl There are parts of this novel that are disjointed or if they aren t they appear so because the opening act moves so slowly that one is barely conscious and later unable to recall that anything much happened at all.
Halfway through this novel, when its greatness starts to happen, a reader almost laments his earlier opinions of it But whose fault is that The beginning is such an act of endurance that the later parts make a reader wish that McEwan had moved thingsquickly in the beginning and used those words forcharacter development in the middle so the reader could declare this novel, unequivocally, one of the five best novels he s ever read.
McEwan is at the top of the art form throughout, though, whatever a reader opines of the product He knows what he s doing every step of the way, right down to an allusion to the disjointed narrative methods employed by Virginia Woolf.
The ending is brilliant, unexpected and harsh But unlike the case of the returning Baxter character in the third act of Saturday, this ending is consistent and at once surprising and inevitable.
After a person has read a few hundred novels, he grasps the art form well enough to know when an author is writing usually it s when the author s employing some top heavy descriptive technique that makes the water droplets gathered on a rose petal somehowimportant than the protagonist s motives for anything she s done to that point and it fairly well cries out, Look at me, my creator is a writer Knowing when an author is writing means knowing that if there s a surprise coming, it s either going to be predicted about 50 pages out or done in such fantastically poor form that its inconsistency mars the rest of the work.
McEwan is fine enough at his craft that the ending is both unanticipated and perfectly consistent That alone makes this novel excellent.
Atonement, Ian McEwanAtonement is a 2001 British metafiction novel written by Ian McEwan concerning the understanding of and responding to the need for personal Atonement Set in three time periods, 1935 England, Second World War England and France, and present day England, it covers an upper class girl s half innocent mistake that ruins lives, her adulthood in the shadow of that mistake, and a reflection on the nature of writing.
Abstract On a summer day in 1935, thirteen year old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment s 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.
Characters Briony Tallis, Emily Tallis, Cecilia Tallis, Leon Tallis, Lola Quincy, Jackson Quincy, Perriot Quincy, Paul Marshall, Robbie Turner 2012 1389 480 9789646917446 1390 437 9789644485213 202001 I was bored with this until half way through, but then it got interesting It touches on imagination versus reality, fiction versus fact, in addition to the story content A portrait of an upper middle class English family is interrupted by a supposed rape in which a young imaginative vengeful girl misidentifies the rapist I found that it stayed with me and that I appreciated itwith time The film was a magnificent translation.
read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC s Big read Poll of 2003The cost of oblivious daydreaming was always this moment of return, the realignment with what had been before and now seemed a little worse In the heat of a 1930s Summer, a family reunites at their country home for what may be the last time Cousins have come to stay, a sister has returned from University and a brother is returning from America with a new friend in tow Briony, the only child left at home, is furiously writing a play to be performed, but what she witnesses and is exposed to will force her to make a decision that she will regret for the rest of her life.
This book reminded me strongly of Evelyn Waugh, though I think that s purely based on the surroundings and era and mostly the house Whilst Evelyn had a whimsical style to his writing, Ian McEwan is positively overflowing with flowery prose that leads nowhere and brings up memories of terrible books they made me read for college Atonement is a relatively easy read, if you can take so much description and little plot None of the characters are anything except a piece of personality and don t go beyond their one trait and I felt nothing for all of them They all had their one job and, whilst they did this one job well, that was that and there seemed nothing beyond their doing their one job.
We begin in a wonderful countryside house, which is described to death and the plot simmers along nicely There s a play being written, and the cousins coming down from the North are being forced to act it out There is youthful petulance, coming of age rebellion and adults avoiding responsibility and, in truth, the scene is set nicely in the first few pages But then this setting of the scene continues for around half the rest of the book and it soon becomes clear that the plot is far away and we re not entirely sure if it ll be seen at all.
Setting the book during the war seemed like a pointless endeavour, if only to include some kind of treacherous battle scenes to add to the overall lack of drama up to this point I suppose the book needed to be set somewhere and some time, but the overall affect was unimpressive I found the whole thing lacking, in truth The book, whilst it shifted to another city and even country, was just too small Everything was cloying and felt like it was happening in one tiny bubble I prefer big worlds and big plots, not just a single thread moving through a mire.
The main thing that irritated me about this book, is that it was full of needless cliffhangers that were seemingly pointless to anything except to expunge the pathetic attempt at a plot beyond the story arc Nearly every chapter ended with something along the lines of and oh my if this character hadn t done what he s about to do in the next chapter then his life would not have turned out the way it did , as if McEwan is unsure of his plot and needs to plead with us to keep reading What, what Ian, what s going to happen I must must must read on if you say something interesting is coming along, because so far we haven t had much, have we, Sir I am grateful, however, at the vague pleasure I got from the book as I read it that kindled within me a notion of the kinds of books I do and do not like I feel, having read this book, that I could spot a book I dislike from the first few pages now, whereas before I d probably have to get through it all just to know So, of course, I will now not be wastinghours on books that seemingly go nowhere, even after the first half, than I need to.
Blog Reviews Instagram Twitter What a lovely reread this was I first read this novel almost a decade ago, and the story has stayed with me The prose is gorgeous, and again I was completely absorbed in this novel My favorite character is Briony, the young writer seeking Atonement for a mistake she made as a child And my heart aches for her sister, Cecilia, and her wronged lover, Robbie I ve only read a few of McEwan s books, but I like his writing style so much I want to readHighly recommended.
Favorite Quotes Was everyone else really as alive as she was If the answer was yes, then the world, the social world, was unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone s thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone s claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was One could drown in irrelevance There did not have to be a moral She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive It wasn t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding, above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value That was the only moral a story need have At that moment, the urge to be writing was stronger than any notion she had of what she might write From this new and intimate perspective, she learned a simple, obvious thing she had always known, and everyone knew that a person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn, not easily mended.
It s like To Kill A Mockingbird Only, instead of a flawed but relatable protagonist, we have a protagonist vilified beyond all reason Instead of a persecuted minority, we have a horny young man And instead of Atticus Finch, we haveIan McEwan And never, in the history of literature, has anyone worked quite this hard to invalidate the accusatory gaze of young girls.
The sinner here is young Briony And her sin is pride We see her exposed to sexist and obscene language, violent sex, and a rape all in one day And why did she she make such a fuss Well, according to McEwan, it s because she s the worst thing in the world a little girl with little girl problems who simply can t understand the grownup world Grownup, in this context, refers almost exclusively to the pursuit of id impulses Everything the poor girl does is made to seem somehow insidious the way she lines up her toys, the way she plays pretend, the way her own mind controls her own hand The power But who are McEwan s martyrs you query Where there s heavy handed allegory, there are bound to be martyrs, you say.
Ah That would be Robbie and Cecilia You see, Robbie and Cecilia s sin is lust, the one and only sin that must always be defended in literature, the sin McEwan is apparently most defensive about Naturally, some of that lust is projected onto the young girl reverse moralists are so hypocritical but it s Robbie and Cecilia who are truly wronged Indeed, no fictional character has been this wronged by the moral majority since Jude the Obscure But even Thomas Hardy had the presence of mind not to shrilly condemn young girls McEwan undermined his point in overstating it.
In McEwan s universe, the only real sin is being too uptight or sheltered No counterpoint is offered Nor is there any real understanding of sexual trauma and its behavioral manifestations No sexual history is provided the characters, certainly nothing to account for the behavior in evidence To Kill a Mockingbird, mentioned earlier, does provide that history McEwan s characters are born the day we meet themand only to serve his argument.
In short, this is a defensive book It s nothingthan a defensive book Chance doesn t work this way Trauma doesn t work this way Sexuality doesn t work this way Nothing works this way.
One gets the distinct impression that McEwan has projected his own narcissism and guilt onto one character the accuser and his actual misdeeds onto another the unjustly persecuted Because his aims are self indulgent, he doesn t accomplish much beyond this smug reversal It never quite makes for a cohesive whole Nearly, though In a foreshadowing of later events, everyone fusses over a cousin who says she has been badly bruised by her two brothers When the unjustly maligned little boys run away, it s predicted that the little drama queen will somehow find a way to regain the spotlight She doesin getting raped We never learn her thoughts or feelings about this incident, and her rapist is given a nebulous presence, at best, in the novel.
Throughout the story, the victim is portrayed as a snob She s so snobby, in fact, that she marries her rapistin the name of monogamy Yes, Ian, we see what you did there Significantly, Cecilia too is portrayed as a snobuntil she puts out.
To summarize Briony is the sort of uppity prig who accuses good men like Ian McEwan Robbie of being bad men.
As we can clearly see, there are far worse men See Oh, the victim Complicit Moving onAnd Cecilia just needed a good fIt s a shame, because the prose, itself, is good The premise had a lot of potential for nuance and ambiguity But McEwan forgoes any subtlety in his tireless crusade againstlittle girls Little girls who tell on men Little girls whose motives and perceptions simply can t be trusted.
And all to make some asinine declaration about true art In the end, we find that Briony is, herself, the narrator of this tale and her own literary career allows McEwan to covertly praise his own writing, so reminiscent of Woolf in his opinion Um, no, Ian Woolf was a good writer Is he serious Is he trying to be a pompous ass Was this an Andy Kaufman bit all along Oh, also War is bad I make that an aside, because the actual causes, ramifications, and atrocities of war are clearly less important to McEwan than his own pen But it s war that truly makes a man of you If only I were a man and could understand the real world instead of writing fairy storiesplaying with my miniaturesand stripping for the neighbor boys all day.
Something tells me McEwan has a long and studied history of reframing But the fact remains If it s not cohesive, it s not true.
This is cleverness Not truth.
In World War II England, 13 year old Briony Tallis misinterprets her older sister s love affair with their family s gardener to be something much worse than what it is Her innocence and partial understanding of the world begins a chain of events that tears the family apart and alters the course of the rest of the girl s life.
Sounds a little dry, right Wrong I guess I forgot to mention that the book was written by Ian McEwan, the king of uncomfortable moments, weird sex stuff, the rotating third person close perspective, and I ll say it writing about the human psyche While I ve found some of his earlier books to be a little too uncomfortable or, rather, too uncomfortable without good reason or a little too sexually deviant again, in the way that it seemed for shock value than with a reason , this was a freaking great book.
I think the one thing that makes this book so wonderful is McEwan s eerily accurate understanding of how a 13 year old girl s mind works her understanding of the world and her emotional reaction to it Briony is trapped between childhood and adulthood She s old enough to recognize the dark and startling behind the scenes facets of her proper British family s life, but not old enough to properly analyze or judge them She s old enough to impose her will and her ideas on others, but not wise enough to know when to act or when to question herself It s a frustrating and fascination and uncomfortable time, and he has it down pat.
McEwan also experiments with structure in ways that are truly innovative and new without being gimmicky Briony is an aspiring writer who grows and develops her style throughout the 60 years that the novel covers, and McEwan s novel mirrors her literary growth Part One of the story is extremely traditional broken into chapters, with a clear rotation of perspectives and a uniform chronology Parts Two and Three are muchmodern the story, which switches gears to follow the gardener into WWII France and Briony to her experiences as a nurse in London, loses structure and fluidity and usesmodern storytelling techniques Finally, the last section is utterly contemporary the story becomes evenabstract, with unreliable narrators andconceptual writing favored over simple narrative.
And yet these games with structure and story and perspective in no way take your focus from the story and the characters Instead, they add to the experience of watching the main character grow and develop.
If the book suffers from anything, it might be a little slow in some places and move too fast in others Since McEwan tends to be very thorough when it comes to interior thought, the story often slows down a bitthan it should so that he can explain how every single person felt about a certain moment in time although the story spans 60 years, the first 200 pages span a single afternoon and evening The slow story a necessary evil, though, if we want to keep the detailed character studies in place And we do And the action filled second half of the book, which covers the British retreat from the Germans in 1940 and the over capacity army hospitals of London, makes up for the sometimes austere and rigorous first half It just takes a while to get the story rolling.