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Atonement [Paperback]

Ian McEwan
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 6 2007
The novel opens on a sweltering summer day in 1935 at the Tallis family’s mansion in the Surrey countryside. Thirteen-year-old Briony has written a play in honor of the visit of her adored older brother Leon; other guests include her three young cousins -- refugees from their parent’s marital breakup -- Leon’s friend Paul Marshall, the manufacturer of a chocolate bar called “Amo” that soldiers will be able to carry into war, and Robbie Turner, the son of the family charlady whose brilliantly successful college career has been funded by Mr. Tallis. Jack Tallis is absent from the gathering; he spends most of his time in London at the War Ministry and with his mistress. His wife Emily is a semi-invalid, nursing chronic migraine headaches. Their elder daughter Cecilia is also present; she has just graduated from Cambridge and is at home for the summer, restless and yearning for her life to really begin. Rehearsals for Briony’s play aren’t going well; her cousin Lola has stolen the starring role, the twin boys can’t speak the lines properly, and Briony suddenly realizes that her destiny is to be a novelist, not a dramatist.

In the midst of the long hot afternoon, Briony happens to be watching from a window when Cecilia strips off her clothes and plunges into the fountain on the lawn as Robbie looks on. Later that evening, Briony thinks she sees Robbie attacking Cecilia in the library, she reads a note meant for Cecilia, her cousin Lola is sexually assaulted, and she makes an accusation that she will repent for the rest of her life.

The next two parts of Atonement shift to the spring of 1940 as Hitler’s forces are sweeping across the Low Countries and into France. Robbie Turner, wounded, joins the disastrous British retreat to Dunkirk. Instead of going up to Cambridge to begin her studies, Briony has become a nurse in one of London’s military hospitals. The fourth and final section takes place in 1999, as Briony celebrates her 77th birthday with the completion of a book about the events of 1935 and 1940, a novel called Atonement.

In its broad historical framework Atonement is a departure from McEwan’s earlier work, and he loads the story with an emotional intensity and a gripping plot reminiscent of the best nineteenth-century fiction. Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class, the novel is a profoundly moving exploration of shame and forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.

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From Amazon

Ian McEwan's Booker Prize-nominated Atonement is his first novel since Amsterdam took home the prize in 1998. But while Amsterdam was a slim, sleek piece, Atonement is a more sturdy, more ambitious work, allowing McEwan more room to play, think, and experiment.

We meet 13-year-old Briony Tallis in the summer of 1935, as she attempts to stage a production of her new drama "The Trials of Arabella" to welcome home her older, idolized brother Leon. But she soon discovers that her cousins, the glamorous Lola and the twin boys Jackson and Pierrot, aren't up to the task, and directorial ambitions are abandoned as more interesting prospects of preoccupation come onto the scene. The charlady's son, Robbie Turner, appears to be forcing Briony's sister Cecilia to strip in the fountain and sends her obscene letters; Leon has brought home a dim chocolate magnate keen for a war to promote his new "Army Ammo" chocolate bar; and upstairs, Briony's migraine-stricken mother Emily keeps tabs on the house from her bed. Soon, secrets emerge that change the lives of everyone present....

The interwar, upper-middle-class setting of the book's long, masterfully sustained opening section might recall Virginia Woolf or Henry Green, but as we move forward--eventually to the turn of the 21st century--the novel's central concerns emerge, and McEwan's voice becomes clear, even personal. For at heart, Atonement is about the pleasures, pains, and dangers of writing, and perhaps even more, about the challenge of controlling what readers make of your writing. McEwan shouldn't have any doubts about readers of Atonement: this is a thoughtful, provocative, and at times moving book that will have readers applauding. --Alan Stewart, --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This haunting novel, which just failed to win the Booker this year, is at once McEwan at his most closely observed and psychologically penetrating, and his most sweeping and expansive. It is in effect two, or even three, books in one, all masterfully crafted. The first part ushers us into a domestic crisis that becomes a crime story centered around an event that changes the lives of half a dozen people in an upper-middle-class country home on a hot English summer's day in 1935. Young Briony Tallis, a hyperimaginative 13-year-old who sees her older sister, Cecilia, mysteriously involved with their neighbor Robbie Turner, a fellow Cambridge student subsidized by the Tallis family, points a finger at Robbie when her young cousin is assaulted in the grounds that night; on her testimony alone, Robbie is jailed. The second part of the book moves forward five years to focus on Robbie, now freed and part of the British Army that was cornered and eventually evacuated by a fleet of small boats at Dunkirk during the early days of WWII. This is an astonishingly imagined fresco that bares the full anguish of what Britain in later years came to see as a kind of victory. In the third part, Briony becomes a nurse amid wonderfully observed scenes of London as the nation mobilizes. No, she doesn't have Robbie as a patient, but she begins to come to terms with what she has done and offers to make amends to him and Cecilia, now together as lovers. In an ironic epilogue that is yet another coup de the tre, McEwan offers Briony as an elderly novelist today, revisiting her past in fact and fancy and contributing a moving windup to the sustained flight of a deeply novelistic imagination. With each book McEwan ranges wider, and his powers have never been more fully in evidence than here. Author tour. (Mar. 19)Forecast: McEwan's work has been building a strong literary readership, and the brilliantly evoked prewar and wartime scenes here should extend that; expect strong results from handselling to the faithful. The cover photo of a stately English home nicely establishes the novel's atmosphere

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By K. Corn
While Ian McEwan's novel seemingly centers around one day and evening when a series of unfortunate events cascades into tragedy for one family, this is only one layer in this mesmerizing book. Below the surface are questions about sin, human fraility, love and, finally, atonement. At the heart of the book is a young girl names Briony and her unformed views of the world which lead her to unfortunate conclusions. As McEwan describes her perspective: .."her life now beginning had sent her a villain in the form of an old family friend...that seemed about right- truth was strange and deceptive, it had to be struggled for, against the flow of the everyday..."
Until I encountered this book, I had begun to wonder if there was truly anything new and original to be read in literature - or only a rehash of themes that had already been worked to death. But McEwan's book not only kept me glued to my seat until I'd finished every last page and read every single word (but slowly, so I could savor the best lines), but made me rethink my beliefs. It made me think about not only love, family ties and betrayals and truth versus fiction but left a reverberation that continues to echo through my days. If this sounds overblown and sentimental, I urge you to read this book yourself before coming to any judgments.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slow start but incredible book Feb. 11 2004
By A Customer
I feel all has been said and I'm repeating the earlier reviews but I have to write because I so enjoyed this book. The first few chapters were a bit long, a lot of descriptions.
Once it picks up, the story is incredible. This author can write about is characters in a way that is almost impossible to describe. You get in the heads of the people and there is no going back. Not only is the plot interesting, hte narrative itself is enough to sustain the book. And, unlike most novels I've read lately, I was SO happy with the ending. I won't say more so I won't spoil it for other readers.
This was the first novel of this author I've read. I'm going to read all his books.
READ this!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book Nov. 21 2011
By Talulah
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love this novel.
This is the novel that solidified Ian McEwan for me, and many others. Its just such a great novel. Th movie was also a spectacular adaptation. i might have chosen someone else to portray Cecilia instead of Keira Knightley but thats a minor detail.
I loved the way this book was written, the subtleties of the novel and the life lessons I learned. This is a dark novel but it is so worth reading and is highly influential! Love this novel. Definitely will reread from time and time again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I'd like to give this book TEN stars . . . July 11 2004
I read a lot of fiction, and some of it is almost immediately forgotten, and some of it stays with me for awhile. This book is going to be in the back of my mind for a long, long time. There are three distinct sections, the first set in 1935 at a semi-stately family home in Surrey. Briony Tallis, from whose viewpoint we see things (and frequently misunderstand them), is thirteen and a precocious and overimaginative writer. Her sister, Cecilia, has just finished university and is sort of marking time while she waits for the next stage of her life to begin, whatever it might turn out to be. There's also a brother, Leon, only a couple years older than Cecilia, to whom she is very close. And then there's Cecilia's counterweight: Robbie Turner, the charlady's brilliant son, just down from Cambridge with a first-class degree and Mr. Tallis's assurance that his education will continue to be paid for. Robbie and Cee grew up together, but they're destined not to be pseudo-siblings, thanks to a broken heirloom vase and a fountain. But there are also the young cousins from an about-to-be-broken home, and a budding chocolate magnate visiting in the company of Leon, and what happens in the interval between one morning and the next will ruin two lives and cause radical change in several others. And Briony will be mostly to blame. This first act builds slowly and the characters reveal themselves bit by bit until you know them inside and out. The second section jumps ahead five years to the British army's retreat before the Germans in France and its convergence on Dunkirk. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Formal and Elegant Sept. 28 2003
"Atonement" isn't the "type" of book I usually enjoy. I'm much more prone to choose a very interior, almost claustrophobic book that takes me deep into the heart and soul of the main character. I found "Atonement" so engrossing, however, that I read the entire book in one day, something I usually don't do.
While most books can be described as either plot-driven or character-driven, I think "Atonement" achieves a wonderful balance between the two. While "Atonement" is definitely not a "page-turner," plot never takes a backseat to character in this book. And, conversely, character never takes a backseat to plot, although, in keeping with the book's cool and formal style, we are kept rather distanced from the characters.
"Atonement" spans sixty-four years, from 1935 to 1999, yet the book is seamless and flows perfectly. McEwan chose to write "Atonement" in a very elegant and formal style and I think his choice was perfect. Subject matter such as that dealt with in "Atonement" could so easily slip into melodrama. McEwan, however, always keeps everything perfectly controlled and definitely understated.
While I thought the understatement in "Atonement" to be a perfect choice, it did create a barrier that kept me from empathizing fully with Briony or any of the other characters. I didn't find them unlikeable, I just felt I couldn't get to know them. I never really became a part of their world, yet for me, that did nothing to detract from the book.
I've heard several people complain about the ending of "Atonement." Some felt cheated or tricked. Personally, I loved the ending of this book and can't imagine McEwan writing it any other way.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls Flat
This is the story of Briony Tallis and the effect a simple statement makes on the lives of those around her. Read more
Published on Jan. 19 2011 by Heather Pearson
1.0 out of 5 stars Slow & Boring
I could not even finish reading this book... which has never happened to me. Ever.
The story line was painfully slow. In fact, there wasn't much of a story at all. Read more
Published on Sept. 16 2010 by shum_gum
3.0 out of 5 stars Atonement
"Atonement" by Ian McEwan is a beautifully written book, with the imagery being so vivid that the reader can clearly see in their mind what is happening in the book. Read more
Published on March 19 2009 by Pauline
1.0 out of 5 stars Different, too different...
I initially picked this book up because of it's raving reviews. It was good to start, interesting. Without explanation jumps to a large section about war (do not care for war) it... Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2009 by F. Green
5.0 out of 5 stars Most memorable and touching
This is the first review I have ever written, never really thought to take the time to let others know what I think. But I hope it will help others as the reviews help me. Read more
Published on Jan. 1 2009 by Angela S. Briffett
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece
This book was an incredible masterpiece that introduced me to McEwan's work. McEwan takes a lot of time painting an intricate portrait that involves all the senses. Read more
Published on Oct. 27 2008 by Jubejube
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible Book
This book, was too long, too wordy and utterly boring. I hated the main character so much I couldn't even finish reading this book. Read more
Published on July 8 2008 by LittleSaintina
1.0 out of 5 stars Painful
This has got to be the most painfully slow, go nowhere book I have ever read. Normally I would have abandoned this 1/4 of the way through but with all the hype around the movie, I... Read more
Published on May 4 2008 by Shepherdess Extraordinaire
2.0 out of 5 stars And now it's a movie... and I'm not sure why...
I thought I would be in a minority in my opinion about this book, but there are few opinions posted here on the board. Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2008 by Daffydd
3.0 out of 5 stars The slowest story I have ever read...
I was hyped out about this novel because I thought that the storyline appealing, then when I finally started to read it, the beginning bored me to death. Read more
Published on Feb. 14 2008 by Winnie Tam
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