on March 16, 2002
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.
on November 21, 2011
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.
on February 11, 2004
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.
on December 19, 2007
I am re-reading the book for the third time now and it never gets tired. This is such a beautiful, heart-breaking story that you cannot afford to miss reading it if you are a literature buff, or just appreciate really great fiction.
The details and lushness of the imagery are breath-taking. A very detail specific book, but that is one of the things I appreciated in the book. I can't say too much or I'll spoil the story, but I highly recommend it.
I would also recommend the movie, it's excellent. Especially the performances by lead actors James McAvoy and Keira Knightley.
on March 19, 2009
"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.
Young Briony Tallis witnesses an intimate moment between her sister Cecilia and the son of a servant, Robbie Turner. Briony has a passion for writing and an imagination that sees what it wants to see. Her misunderstanding of this flirtatious moment between her sister and Robbie Turner has devastating consequences that the reader follows through the battle of World War II and to the close of the twentieth century.
I had trouble liking this book, it is well praised for its literary genius and it is a gorgeous read, but I did not bond with any of the characters. Actually the only character that really interested me was Briony, but her story is short changed. Instead the story focuses on the two lovers, Cecilia and Robbie and their devastating separation.
It seems hard to believe that Cecilia and Robbie could be so deeply in love and committed to each other throughout war and hell after just spending one-half of a day realizing that they loved each other before they are separated. Their encounter in the library seems more lustful then full of love.
The ending is one part of the book that I really enjoyed, it focused on Briony and it throws a realistic twist into the whole book. Bring on more Briony! This book should be read just for the writing style and the vividness of the word that Ian McEwan is able to produce.
on October 13, 2007
Ian McEwan's Atonement renders the story of the Tallis family during a crucial epoch-- the interwar period, 1935, just before WWII. The spotlight shines most directly on Briony, the early-pubescent daughter whose household will soon swell with the arrival of new family members. Briony has the insecurity and longings that remind a reader of Holden Caulfield, along with the latter's desire to set things right in her own preconceived way. Briony dreams of becoming a novelist but will later become a nurse to "atone" for the sins of her actions that lead to unintended consequences. In fact, true to the book's title, its characters in general atone in various ways for the often disastrous outcomes of their actions.
Besides the depth of character development in the book, we the readers are also treated to a marvelously vivid set of images of a world gradually hurtling toward war. There is Briony's stripping in the fountain for Robbie Turner, and the latter's desperation several years later at Dunkirk, waiting in terror for an uncertain rescue as the Nazi death trap closes in around him and his compatriots. A worthy and in some ways superior follow-up to McEwan's Amsterdam.
on 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. Robbie, a private soldier (because he has no choice), is stumbling through it himself in the company of two corporals and, even though you know what will happen in the larger picture, the suspense of wondering whether Robbie will make it out is excruciating. McEwan does an amazing job of recreating the insanity and chaos of that rout, seen close-up. What keeps him going is the thought of a return to prison and never seeing Cecilia again, and the reader can feel his agony clearly. In the third section, Briony, now eighteen, is a probationer nurse in a London hospital preparing to receive the army's thousands of wounded as they return across the Channel -- and again, McEwan's depiction of the girl's attempt to atone for the pain she has caused, her weariness both in body and in mind, is overwhelming. Even though you know what she has done, you can't help but feel sorry for her. Finally, in a brief coda set in 1999, Briony, now an elderly and accomplished author, has just finished the book we've been reading; it's her truthful account -- maybe -- of what actually happened that summer night in 1935. It's her final act of atonement. And she lets us know in only a few sentences that maybe the lovers weren't actually reunited as she has described. And that would be heartbreaking, but there often is no happy ending in a McEwan novel. Throughout the book, the authors -- both Ian McEwan and Briony Tallis -- weave a web of description and gradual understanding that keep the reader's attention riveted. Many times, I found myself rereading paragraphs aloud just to hear the shape of the prose. An outstanding piece of work.
on September 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. What I disagree with is the fact that the book is "multi-layered." If pressed, I don't think many people could explain what they mean by "multi-layered." This book definitely was not "multi-layered." We are given Briony's story and Briony's only.
I have to applaud McEwan for not judging his characters; for not using his book as a forum from which to make moral judgments. This choice left the book a little more open-ended than some readers would have liked, but it added a poignant, fatalistic quality as well that I found lovely.
"Atonement" is a beautiful book. It's elegant, formal and very highly polished. I think it's definitely McEwan's best and most ambitious work to date.
on June 24, 2003
Love and Redemption are tried and true subjects for novels. However Ian McEwan's Atonement tells the story in an original, gripping manner. This book will get inside your head, and during the periods that you are forced to put it down, it will dredge up those times in your life that you made a mistake, and tried to make things right. Of course we can't make everything right all the time. Some things we can't ever fix--and here we are, with material for a novel. McEwan brings us characters in a disfunctional family in pre-war England. A big, terrible mistake by a naive young female family member changes everyone's lives, mostly for the worse. Years pass and the girl grows up and realizes just how big a mistake she has made, and sets out to make things right. This turns out to be dreadfully difficult. World War II has started. The rest of the family has their own problems.
The end holds a surprise; it is delightful. Can hearts, lives, and people that have been broken be made whole again? Once a huge mistake has been made, does honesty, sincerity and truthfullness win the day? Or can our actions haunt us with unreconciled acts and estrangement. McEwan gives us hints. The judgement is ours.
This is one of the best books of the last few years. If you like excellent, compelling writing, it will stick in your mind for a while after you're done.
on June 21, 2003
Atonement consists of 4 sections, with the first section comprising about half the book. This section is set at an English country house between the world wars, takes place primarily in one day, and is populated with a mother, 3 siblings, a visitor, 3 cousins, and a family protégé. It shifts narrative perspective between the characters, but it is the youngest sibling, a young 13 year old aspiring writer, who is the primary character. The writing in this section is often beautiful; however, it has that almost repetitious quality that, while very effective, made this reader sometimes want to say, "enough". This first section begins with the production of a play by the 13 year old, and this entire narrative thread is unnecessarily long. The rest of the book is written with an economy of style and is quite arresting. The second section is narrated by an infantryman during the retreat to Dunkirk, and really stands on its own as a an excellent piece of writing, although it fits into the overall schema of the novel. In fact, one of the outstanding qualities of the novel is how all the sections fit together, so that the whole is so much more than the sum of the parts.