Review: Atonement

I really enjoyed this book by Ian McEwan. It is the most famous of his books and has been adapted for the big screen. Some of his other books include Saturday and the soon-to-be-released book Sweet Tooth, which I look forward to reading!

Atonement begins on a hot summer day in 1935 in a chaotic upper-middle class British household. Briony Tallis, 13 years old, is a precocious aspiring young author and tries to direct a play she wrote, with her cousins as actors. Of course, her expectations are not met and the play falls apart. Meanwhile, she seeks drama in the lives of her family members and, as children often do, misinterprets events and reads into them.

Briony’s imagination leads to a devastating misunderstanding when she witnesses an interaction between her older sister, Cecelia, and the servant’s son Robbie. A private interaction, a mistaken note, and a romantic encounter in the library is all it takes for Briony to form a wildly different picture of the events occurring between Robbie and Cecilia.

This grave mistake might have stopped there, if it weren’t for the evening’s events. Someone rapes their young cousin Lola, and Briony is the only person who witnesses the event. Her wild imagination and child’s understanding leads to her jumping to conclusions and becoming the key witness of a painful accusation.

The novel then skips ahead to years later as World War II begins. It takes us through the difficulties of Robbie and Ceclia’s romance, the pain of the war through the eyes of soldiers, and then brings us back to Briony. She is now a nurse dealing with stress related to the war and her own guilt over her mistake years ago. As the title suggests, Briony struggles with the concept of atonement and wonders if she can ever make up for her mistake.

The novel closes beautifully with some deep insight into the plot and literature in general and ties back to the beginning with Briony’s amateur play finally getting it’s debut in a touching demonstration of family love. The ending does raise some frustrating questions, but they are addressed in an interesting way. I really want to say more about this, but I don’t want to give it all away! So read it, I urge you! Then come back and we can discuss 🙂

I really did enjoy this book quite a bit. Surprisingly, it took me a while (several weeks!) to get through, but this was due to “real life” and does not reflect the quality of the book. The characters and plot were compelling, and I always love books about WWII, so it was a perfect mix! I’m hoping the movie won’t be much of a disappointment – though isn’t this inevitable with amazing books (no matter how amazing the movie)?

“The truth is I feel rather light headed and foolish in your presence, Cee, and I don’t think I can blame the heat!”