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Atonement: A Novel
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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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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, Amazon.co.uk

Customer Reviews:

  • A Thing of Beauty
    When it comes to Atonement, I'm arriving late to the party. I have been aware of the novel almost since it was first published and I know of the major motion picture produced from its story but, for various reasons, it has taken me several years to get around to reading it.

    Ian McEwan has written a complicated, multi-layered book that is simply beautiful when considered as a whole. It is a coming-of-age novel, a crime novel, a love story, a war novel, a mystery and an author's reflections on the art of fiction writing, all rolled into one. The book is structured in three distinctive sections, each with a very different story to tell, and an epilogue that flashes forward more than 50 years.

    Part One, set in 1935, introduces thirteen-year old Briony Tallis, an aspiring novelist even at that age, who has a vivid imagination but a limited understanding of the motivations and emotions of the adults around her. Her imagination takes over when from a distance she witnesses a scene between her older sister, Cecelia, and the charwoman's son, Robbie, at the fountain in front of the family home. Imagining that Robbie has forced her sister to strip to her underwear and immerse herself in the fountain, Briony is filled with conflicting emotions. As the day goes on, she becomes more and more certain that Robbie is a danger to her sister and is so convinced that he is evil that her imagination leads her to identify him as responsible for a sexual assault that occurs that night.

    Part Two picks up the story some five years later in France where Robbie, who has been freed from prison to join the fight against Hitler, is part of a British army retreating to Dunkirk in hopes of being evacuated to England in time to fight another day. Painfully carrying a piece of shrapnel in his side, he realizes that he is responsible for his own survival and slowly works his way to the coast with two others. But by the time he gets there to experience the chaos and further slaughter of the Dunkirk beaches his wound is causing him serious complications.

    Part Three focuses on the now eighteen-year old Briony who has moved to London to study nursing at exactly the point at which her training hospital is overrun by casualties from the Dunkirk slaughter. Her experiences mature her in more ways than one and she longs to somehow undo the wrong she committed against Robbie and Cecelia who has been estranged from the family ever since Robbie's imprisonment as a convicted rapist.

    Finally, there is the epilogue set in 1999 in which Briony, now a respected elderly novelist joins family to celebrate her seventy-seventh birthday, a section of the book in which McEwan has stashed one final surprise for his readers. This is an ending that readers will likely react to differently, some in surprise, some in admiration, and others in frustration and even a little anger.

    Atonement paints a vivid picture of pre-war England and the days immediately after the British army collapse in France caused most Londoners to expect German bombers and troops to appear at any time. It explores the emotions of both those seeking to atone for transgressions against others and those who suffered those transgressions and find it hard to forgive or forget them. It studies the "truths" of fiction and what writers and their readers should expect from each other.

    I may have gotten there late but this is one party I'm happy I didn't miss.
    ...more info
  • Loved it!
    One of my favorite novels ever, I read it before it was made into a movie. The story is so romantic and engaging, two lovers that have only a few minutes together to share in their whole lives because of a person's false accusation, three lives destroyed due to ignorance and childish egoism. I loved both the part in the Tallis' family house before the dramatic change of events and also Robbie's efforts to reach Dunkirk (that was almost lost in the film). I couldn't see the end coming... I think that final twist in the story is what made this great book brilliant. I absolutely love Mr Mac Ewan's way of writing, so fluent, so natural and efficient. He is one of the most talented authors today as far as I am concerned. I hated Briony and at the same time I could get into her mind and understand why she acted as she did. I have been urging many of my friends to read it ever since, and those who did, have all thanked me! I read On Chesil Beach lately, perfect writing as well. I like that Mac Ewan's novel get you into the process of thinking... all those "what if's"... you're not done with his books even when you're through them, they stay in your mind, in your heart. Don't skip it just because you saw the movie, this book's just perfect....more info
  • Dissapointed
    The reviews looked so promising, but I just could not get in to this book at all. I checked out the audio version from my library, and perhaps it is better on paper, but I doubt it. I have made it through the first hour of the book, and it is terrible and I will not continue. The story seems somewhat intersting, but it does NOT make Sense! It goes back and forth from Celias perspective, to Bryany (may have mispelled that). And I just cant figure out exactly what the crap is going on. The images I am able to conture in my mind of what might be going on are just so fuzzy, and dreamlike. I just cant relate to this story. I keep listening to it thinking why dont they just "SAY" what is happening, the way the author describes things is very poor.
    ...more info
  • Absorbing, moving story
    I couldn't put this novel down and read it in two sittings. Of the books I've read in the past few months, this is my favorite. The characters are extremely well-developed, and the plot is engaging and deeply moving. I'm eager to read more by this writer who was new to me....more info
  • Slow start
    Hang in there, it takes about 75 pages until it starts to get readable. Does make an interesting book club book. Anxious to see the movie to understand how this was a best seller....more info
  • a remarkable creation
    I have more or less stopped reading modern fiction, but my wife pushed this one with the argument that I'd appreciate the section on Dunkirk. Come to find out, I thought that was the weakest part of the book--amusing, but not terribly convincing. But Briony Tallis! She is one of the great female characters in all fiction, right up there with Natasha Rostov. (And almost as dangerous.)

    Read it. Good book. And if you don't enjoy it, at least go and rent the DVD, because the movie's pretty good as well. - CDB...more info
  • Boring beyond belief
    I'm no stranger to long, involved novels; as a matter of fact most of my favorites are 400+ pages with plots so multi-layered and characters so complex you'll need to take notes just to keep up. Although the genre I read the most is `mysteries,' I'm not wedded to just one type of book so, tried "Atonement" mostly due to all the hype.

    The first half or so of the book seemed alright--I wasn't keen on the paragraph-long sentences and the overwrought descriptions of just about everything, but not a big deal; figured I could live with it. However, when I reached Part II (Robbie's Dunkirk exploits), that's when it became a struggle for me to even continue. Nothing so far had impressed me, but as I've experienced many times before, there are authors who will work the reader hard, but the payoff will be worth it. So onward I went to ---- what? The most inane denouement I've ever read. I actually felt cheated and this is a feeling I don't often get with my reading. And this is the twist/ending that practically everyone was saying was brilliant?! I actually re-read the last section just to make sure I didn't miss anything; perhaps some nuance that slipped by me, etc. Nope. Read everything, understood everything, and still felt cheated. Deflated doesn't even come close to describing what I felt.

    Those greater than I, I'm sure, will be eager to comment on what a nitwit I am for "not getting IT," it being what the rest of the civilized world gets and Philistines like me don't. So be it, I welcome whatever comes with graciousness, but stand by my one-star review....more info
  • More like 2.5 stars
    What is the big fuss over this book? It was a book of prose which really failed to really capture my interest. I only read it to the end because I feel compelled to finish what a book that I have started.

    The writer goes into painful descriptions of everything (which really insulted my imagination) and there was barely any dialogue. The story comes through the thoughts of the characters. This would have been fine, but their thoughts strayed way off track. I found myself being confused at certain parts.

    Basically, the book is a book filled with fillers, which I guess is just to add the to length of the book....more info
  • See This One Through
    Part One of this novel is slow going. Had I not trusted the author from reading a previous book (Saturday), I might not have continued. This would have been a travesty. Part Two picked up the action and intensity in the war scenes, and Part Three tied it all together with one of the most elegant, haunting and surprising endings I've experienced.

    After experiencing the ending, you will realize that Part One had to be written the way it was for the book to have resonated so powerfully. It laid the necessary groundwork for development of the novel's themes: reality versus perception, honesty versus artistic creativity, and real life versus fictional creation.

    I watched the movie after reading the novel and was also impressed with the film adaptation. Beautiful cinematography, great acting, and a good sense of time and place. The movie did, however, feel choppier than the novel, as it was harder to blend the three parts into one seamless narrative as well as Mcewan did. ...more info
  • Better than I expected
    I really enjoy reading Ian Mcewan's books, but I didn't expect much from this one since both my mother and my friend had stopped reading it midway. That was a few years ago. When I saw that the movie came out I figured I better read it before seeing the film. So I checked out this "mass market version." I usually steer away from these editions but I like the way the cover looks and feels. Anyway, at no point during my read of this book did I want to take a break from it. Quite a bit of time is spent setting up characters and background, but this only makes the events that follow all the more gripping and compelling. I really cared about the characters and felt what they were going through as much as I have in any book I've read. At times I even felt my body reacting to McEwan's highly descriptive writing. Indeed, this is an intense and at times grisly read, but it's one that creates an enjoyable connection to the story that McEwan exploits to the fullest as he plays with expectations and draws out some points in the story while delivering plot development in shockingly brisk fashion at others. He makes it easy to get sucked in. I still haven't seen the movie, but the pleasure I got from the book was more than I expected from both....more info
  • Takes awhile to get into, but worth the ride ** warning: spoilers ahead


    McEwan's writing style is definitely an acquired taste--there are times when it seems like he is overwriting the novel, and we are drumming through as a reader to try to extract the next available plot event. It took me a few chapters to get moving more rapidly with the reading, but ultimately it was rewarding. While the novel does take awhile to get going, the story picks up steam towards the second half. McEwan has an ability to illustrate and pinpoint detail with great vividness, and that goes a long way in creating believable characters, and successfully moving back and forth in time.

    ** Warning: Spoilers and plot summary ahead, skip to next paragraph if you haven't read book**

    Basically the novel is divided into four main parts. Part one begins with young Briony writing a play and awaiting her cousins as well as her brother's arrival. Briony witnesses a moment of flirting between her sister and Robbie at the fountain and then, after reading a "dirty" letter intended for Cecilia, misconstrues Robbie as being some sort of "monster". Later, while both families are out searching for her twin cousins who have run off, she witnesses her cousin Lola apparently being molested by a man. Putting all she has seen--and read-- together, she comes to the conclusion that the man must have been Robbie. Unwavering in her testimony, Briony is the one who sends Robbie off to prison despite his protests. Part two fast forwards a few years where we are given a first-hand account of Robbie's role in the war. He and his comrades encounter many grizzly deaths, and witness first-hand how brutality of battle can strip away the spirit of individuals, both physically and mentally. Robbie keeps Cecelia's note to "come back" to her as comfort and motivation to survive. Cecilia had been the only one of the Tallis family who had believed in his innocence. Part three takes the story at the same time from Briony's point of view. Living with her sin, she is now working relentlessly as a probationer in a hospital helping out fallen and injured soldiers during wartime. Much like Robbie, Briony has had her freedoms stripped from her, only she has done it of her own accord. Briony's work is a form of atonement, as she also sees war's brutal and graphic results, and tries to comfort and tend to the severely injured and the dying. Having written and not heard from her sister Cecilia, she decides one day to go out and find her sister's place. After seeing her sister, she learns that Robbie is there also, and he confronts Briony about the past, telling her that there is one thing she must do to "atone" for her past: tell everyone what the truth is. Briony leaves, apparently agreeing to do this. From here, part four fast forwards to an elderly Briony's point of view. She has gone to her doctor, and realizes that the headaches she has are an early sign of dementia. She only has a short amount of time before this condition will ultimately rob her of her mind, her thoughts, her identity and her life. Despite hearing this news, she is upbeat as she returns home, and gets there to witness many of the young grandchildren perform her childhood play, "The Trials of Arabella." It is significant because this play takes her back to the past, of that fateful day where she made her mistake. She has been a successful writer, but there is one book that never got published and that has gone through many different drafts. It is basically the story of Robbie and Cecilia, and the mistake she made to ruin their love. She tells us that the book has two different endings--one where Robbie and Cecilia live happily ever after, and the other one, in which Robbie and Cecilia both die in 1940. She chooses the first ending because as she puts it "Who would want to believe that they never met again, never fulfilled their love?" She reflects on whether she has atoned for her sin or not.

    One significant issue taken from McEwan's novel is the idea of forgiveness. As the novel progresses, not only is Briony coming to terms with what her lie does to the fates of her sister and Robbie, but herself as well. We wonder whether they should forgive her for this, or what acts of retribution make up for a moment of sin. There is a sense that, although Briony is young when making her poor decision, that once her statement is taken down by the police, the fate of the three main characters are all sealed, and that they must all pay for years to come. Briony makes her form of redemption by working tirelessly during the war, and there is a sense by novel's end that McEwan wants us to forgive, or at least be sympathetic to, Briony. This seems especially true since the last two parts of the novel are taken from her point of view. However it is, it begs to the ultimate question at the end: Do WE forgive Briony?

    It is easy to see how this novel was turned into a film up for an award last year, because the scenery and moments "come to life" in McEwan's writing. As far as reading, I would recommend this novel, but do so with the advice that it might take you more than one try to get through, but that it will ultimately pay off. I watched the film first before reading, but now am anxious to go back and watch the film again.

    ...more info
  • 3 Different books that never become one
    When a highly touted book receives such varied customer reviews, I've got to read it. And I can't resist adding my voice to the many reviews already posted. What an odd book this is.

    It begins portraying domestic life in the English countryside. The only person who regularly goes to town is the sketchily drawn father. The mother takes to her bed frequently to avoid the apparently very real, migraines she is cursed with. The children and staff live in the country as if insulated from the world by a chintz tea-cozy. The oldest daughter's dilemma in choosing a dress for dinner is described, "...she wanted to look as though she had not given the matter a moment's thought...Soon her mother would appear and want to discuss the table placings, Paul Marshall would come down from his room and be in need of company, and then Robbie would be at the door. How was she to think straight?" Difficulties, indeed. This tightly enclosed domestic scene is set, and the hypocrisy of the British upper class is gently skewered. This portion of the book climaxes when the youngest daughter, Briony, a self-centered, overly dramatic 13 year old mis-interprets actions of the adults; accuses, testifies, and is the cause of the public damnation of one of the young men. Suddenly, the scene shifts dramatically.

    WWII descends on their lives abruptly. The wrongly convicted young man is fighting in France. The story of his service is not of predictable noble heroism. It is the ugly, dispiriting retreat of the English army from France back to Britain. This may be the most affecting portion of the book, but any waggish views of British life are left firmly in the first part of the book. It is a sad, cruel journey he makes. And his fate is telegraphed loud and clear; the continuous jabs of shrapnel in his side, into his ribs, against his organs, leave little doubt that he will not complete his journey.

    Before this ends though, the book shifts (again) to the life of the now grown Brionywho is in nursing training. Her duties, mostly the lowliest in the hospital, include endless cleaning of bed pans and other distasteful jobs. So, is this the "atonement" for her former errors we have been promised? It seems not. The older daughter who had so much difficulty choosing a dress becomes a nurse and is promptly promoted to Ward Sister; a position which requires a "she who must be obeyed" personality. No explanation for this personality shift is explored. It just happens.

    Then things get dicey indeed. A walk the younger girl takes to visit her long estranged sister is described in tremendous detail. It is not a very interesting walk, but each observation, no matter how mundane, is recorded. In fact, in my paperback copy, the description of this tedious walk goes on for 17 pages! Even the most naive reader can tell something is up the author's sleeve. This boring segment has a purpose though; everything that occurs after it, (until the last chapter) is untrue. While some people have been delighted with this over-used plotting technique, I was unimpressed. To describe a vivid love story resolution, and then to find out it was all made up by another character is over-used, cheap, and manipulative. It didn't help that in this book it was also obvious as all get-out. But Briony writing an untrue happy resolution of the love story between her sister and the young man who's life she ruined, seems to be the best "atonement" we're going to get. She actually has the nerve to muse, "How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God?" WHAT??? She didn't decide an outcome of people's lives, she decided the outcome of her fiction. And her foolish, wrong-headed error becomes unforgivable, because she never asks for forgiveness.
    I would not classify this amongst the worse books I've ever read but I certainly wouldn't recommend it. Writing a nice sentence, even one that can be described as "lyrical" is one thing. Writing a good book is quite another. ...more info
  • Sweeping, Epic, Sensational
    First let me say, I truly loved the story of this book - which as you've probably recognized, was recently made into a film. Given that most readers at this point will be picking up Atonement because of the movie, I think it's fair to do a fair bit of comparison between the two. Both the book & the film play out in similar ways in that they both possess some shining, outstanding moments of brilliance and clarity, but for every four of those there was one moment that needed some polishing, hence my grade of 4/5 stars.

    The story starts in the mid 1930's when a thirteen year old girl named Briony, known for being a bit fantastical and in her head, witnesses a series of events one day and misinterprets them to the entirely wrong, adolescent conclusion, and tells a lie that sets off a rapid chain of events that forever change the lives around her - most notably of her older sister Cecilia and her newfound love interest, their longtime childhood friend Robbie. The story follows the path of the lie and its far-reaching consequences through World War 2 up until the end of the 20th century.

    Part of me wishes I hadn't seen the movie - given the very unique ending - but a bigger part of me is glad I had, as it made the book a lot easier to read than I suspect it would be for someone who hasn't seen the film. I was amazed at how good the film really was in its adaptation of the book, in terms of keeping in the majority of major dialogue sequences and accurately portraying the scenery as it is described in the book. Most importantly, it really did a great job of capturing what the book was about, the general feeling and sensations you got from the book were translated beautifully on screen.

    The one main thing the book did better than the movie was the delivery of the story itself through Briony, especially her thought process as she witnesses the various events early on in the story. The prose itself is quite well written, although (like in the film) it tends to lag a bit and get off track from the core themes during the section set in the fields of WW2. There are excellent themes surrounding redemption and coming of age and lots of complicated moral questions that made the book more enjoyable to read than I had anticipated.

    My final note would be that the film did a much better job at revealing its final twist than the book - it was acted in such an outstanding way that you felt the weight of the final revelation that much more, although it was strongly based on the excellent writing of McEwan in these final pages. Recommended for fans of books such as The Kite Runner....more info
  • The Life Review
    Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement, is a story of chance encounters that disrupt even the most carefully controlled lives. Set in England during the period between the two World Wars with a leap to the present, the plans of members of a wealthy family are changed because of the conscious misperceptions of a creative child, Briony. Because of her disingenuous account of an assault that takes place on the family's estate, irreversible life paths are set for the characters, and the reader is aware of the novelist's deliberate plot decisions.

    The beautifully written story follows the lives of the characters most affected by Briony's embellishment of her observations and her desire to tell stories, to become a novelist. McEwan presents a novel within a novel and surprises the reader on many occasions with plot twists. He has a very good ability to give the reader insight into the characters' motivations, describing reasons for their life changing choices.

    The most impressive aspect of Atonement is McEwan's illustration of the power of a life review, the revisiting of personal history by a person as she gains wisdom through aging. In Brionys' life review, initiated both consciously and by chance encounters with people and cues from the environment, a resolution of her life is achieved. The task of aging is atonement through memories, a unity of the story of the self and a personal history with others. The most difficult conclusion to reach is that upon looking back, it all makes sense.
    ...more info
  • So boring!
    I really thought this book was extremely boring. Moved way too slowly and there was honestly nothing in this book that made me WANT to finish it. I would not recommend this book unless you need something to help put you to sleep every night....more info
  • Couldn't get into it before viewing the movie . . .
    . . . Couldn't really get into it after watching the movie, but actually managed to finish it this time. Would I read another book of Ian McEwan's? Not unless he changed his writing style drastically.

    At first the book is hard to get into, because it flicks back and forth between the different characters' points of views. But then the film is the same. But the book is pages and pages of never ending description - with very little dialogue added in between. And when you do get dialogue, it seems to be all grouped together, before you get more pages and pages of description.

    What I will say about the book is that the film was at least faithful to it. You know I hate watching movies of books that I loved (the recent Narnia movies being prime examples), but reading the book after watching the film, I saw a few more insights into what I liked in the movie, but didn't quite make sense.

    What I will NEVER get about the movie or the book for that matter, is the whole Lola/Paul Marshall storyline. What girl marries the man who sexually abused her? Or was it consensual? Considering she looked like she was crying the second time at least, we can think it wasn't consensual? I found this whole storyline very difficult to understand, since she marries Paul in both the movie and the book.

    The ending of the movie is also changed, and to be honest, I preferred the ending depicted in the movie. The ending in the book just didn't work. I'm not quite sure what it was, but I was still turning pages, trying to find the rest of it.

    If I'm going to be brutally honest, I skimmed a lot of sections of this book. I still read it, but particularly the war section of the book (scenes I hated in the movie) I skimmed. I was certainly disappointed even more than I was first time around, and would only recommend it to readers of Ian McEwan's work. Certainly do not read as your first book....more info
  • Still Important Post-Movie
    Beautifully written. There's a scene in which the mother sits and thinks about her life that is a fascinating insight into her character. I saw the movie first and still enjoyed the book immensely. ...more info
  • Boring and unengaging
    I read this for a book club where a number of the other members had described this as one of their absolute favorite books ever, so I had high hopes. It became an arduous and unrewarding slog through pedantic, verbose descriptions of landscapes and characters. I never figured out why I should care for even one second about any of the people in the story, so completely unsympathetic were they. As a side note, I saw the movie after a friend said it was better than the book, but I found it equally uninteresting.
    ...more info
  • Simmering
    There's no doubt that Ian McEwan is a terrific writer. His prose...the interplay between the intricate thoughts of the characters and the descriptions of the settings are beautiful..I loved that line about Cecilia's dress worshiping the curves of her body. Those war scenes..like a piece of a Heironymous Bosch painting. So many other great bits too, but to me, I find it part of the English writing tradition to have a stew of simmering passion, often detached over-wrought and intellectualized, just below the surface which carefully never spills over. Words never said. Somber looks exchanged. Clipped cryptic meanings. Me, I happen to like things a bit more messy and expansive. Still, I enjoy Ian McEwan's measured pleasure. ...more info
  • Read the Book First... but the movie is good! :)
    I have yet to see the movie, but I wanted to read the book first. I liked how the book was divided into parts that had relation to the story, but the reader didn't really know how or why until later. I do wish there would have been more elaboration on the story of Cecila and Robbie and their reunion and their life together; however, I know the major theme in the book was about Briony's perspective. Overall, great description and characterization... and it reflects the true naivete of Briony as a child and her maturation through experience with life and people....more info
  • I was moved
    I decided to read this book because I fell in love with the movie. But the problem lies with mixing the images from the movie with the imagery created by McEwan. First and foremost, the movie closely resembles the book, so at times it was hard for me to picture the events and people without thinking of the movie. Atonement is a story about a little girl (Briony) who convinces herself of something that she knows is a lie, and this lie changes the lives of everyone around her. (I won't tell you exactly what the lie is, but you might be able to get an idea.) She grows up to become a novelist and writes Atonement as her way to absolve herself of the lie that ruins her sister's, Cecilia and Robbie (the housekeeper's son) relationship. The story is told from many different points of view, which takes readers to the state of mind of the characters. Surprisingly, you come to understand that everyone has a little made up story in their mind. Robbie is convinved that Briony told that lie because she was in love with him. Briony tells the lie because she made up the story that Robbie is a sex maniac and wanted to protect her sister. In a sense, she wanted the lie to be true for her own vindication. The thing that moves me about this book is the kind of love that Cecilia and Robbie had for each other, their longing to be with one another, and never even having that single wish fulfilled. It was absolutely heartbreaking to think of a life that you can share with someone, look forward to it, and never have it realized. Although Briony was absolutely wrong about what she did, you realize, that there is this human side to her and it's hard to hate her because you, as a reader, also get to see what went on in her mind when she lied. ...more info
  • British Drama
    I liked the book and its adaptation into a movie, although as is the case, the insight of the book into the characters outpaced the film images as a description of the characters. The number of events and outcomes, the folly and guilt of Briony, the lack of chronology from chapter to chapter made the reader feel like he/she were sweeping the cobwebs from the mind of the narrator. The reader had to consider the characters' feelings which prompted the tenor of their interactions. 'Atonement' is a story to savor as it is read. The end is bittersweet because the characters' fates coincide with the march of life -- youth, circumstance, age. Death lies below the surface as a fact of life, although it remains as a fact that has happened or that is about to happen. Like the lovers, life will continue in the imagination ....more info
  • Good One
    This is not they type book I normally read, however, I enjoyed it. I found part one very slow. This was building up the characters and their history. This may just be the author's style. The second half of the book was more engaging. Overall, it is a great story....more info
  • One of the great works of contemporary fiction
    An example of the book being sooooo much better than the movie. I loved the film "Atonement", but boy am I glad I read the book first!

    One of my alltime favorite fiction books. Absolutely mindblowing, and for those not familiar with the plot, I will not spoil it. Just read the book!...more info
  • Cramped, overwritten book
    I won't offer a plot summary that can be found in other book reviews. I'll offer my frank opinion that this book is over-rated and destined for the literary dustbin. "Atonement" is a cramped miniaturist piece that aspires to something greater, particularly in its commentary about written narrative, but ultimately, the major plot points boil down to the warped opinions of an adolescent mind. Lies, false accusations, fanciful opinions, need for drama--all products of a prepubescent's girl's mind. And unfortunately, a rather likable student is sent to war, separating him from his true love, because everyone is too willing to believe the idiotic opinions of the teenage girl Briony....more info
  • A Chore to Read
    I decided to read this book because of the enthusiasm and hype that has surrounded it. I took it with me to read while on a plane trip. The only reason I was able to get through the first 100 pages was because I had no appealing alternatives as I was trapped next to the window for my several hour airplane ride.

    As others have said, the book is overwritten. While there is a lot of descriptive language, it is overdone and often irrelevant. At times it felt like the author wanted the reader to know how many words he knew or could use to describe something that was quite simplistic. The characters, except for Briony, are mostly absent, and Briony is just plain unlikeable. I had read that Ian McEwan did an outstanding job of infiltrating the psychology of the characters--I wholeheartedly disagree. The characters were barely present, therefore hard to care about or empathize with.

    The "mystery" of the book was easy enough to figure out. After finally making in through the first part, I was intrigued and wanted to keep reading. While I thought the "mystery" wasn't really a mystery at all and an obvious conclusion, I was hoping for some great twist or turning point -- hoping that I hadn't figured out what really happened on the night around which the story was built. Unfortunately, there was no such twist, just disappointment that the truth was so obvious.

    Then, in hoping that Briony might recant, I continued to keep reading. Again, disappointed with the anticipation of something that never came to fruition.

    The parts of the book are abrupt transitions from one another. Each part requires the same determination as the first one to keep going even when it seems like the story isn't. When I finally was able to get interested in the new section, the book abruptly transitioned to the next section.

    I read the book before reading any reviews, and was somewhat relieved to see that I wasn't the only person who was so sorely disappointed with the book. With all of the hype surrounding the book, I surely thought there must be something that I was missing.

    I always try to take something away from the experience of reading a book, and there were a few instances throughout that caused me to stop and really think. One was when Briony was relating to her cousin and realizing how others and our reaction to others often help us to learn about ourselves. It is through how we relate and respond that we can learn something about ourselves that we didn't previous know, or hadn't thought about.

    Another example was the depiction of the experience of Briony telling her story and then feeling trapped in her story with no space to modify it or turn back from it. This made me think about how often this probably happens with situations of similar magnitude as well as seemingly insignificant situations.

    These are two examples of how I was able to use the book and relate it to life beyond the book.

    Overall, two stars....more info
  • Great Book - Preferred the movie
    I am a big fan of the movie. I enjoyed the book -beautifully written- however the tragedy of the story was almost too much for me to read. Everything is so much more vivid in print. It is one of the few times where I actually preferred the movie....more info
  • Briony as Unreliable Narrator

    _Atonement_ is a fine book, highly reminiscent of Elizabeth Bowen's work. But I don't understand why the common assessment of Briony as unreliable narrator seems to stop at her end-revelation that Cecilia and Robbie were killed without ever fulfilling their love.

    Briony admits, in fact, to being a novelist throughout. She says she collapsed several hospitals she worked at into one. A common writing technique; after all, what is important is how her experience as a wartime nurse affects her.

    Her rejection letter, which states that Elizabeth Bowen (who was said to not even work for the magazine) felt compelled to read her manuscript and loved it, is far too glowing for reality. Then there is the book's harmonious ending. Several generations of Briony's relatives assemble to see Briony's childhood play "The Trials of Arabella," which was interrupted and upstaged by the drama of Lola's sexual violation. Her cousin Pierrot ran away from rehearsals as a child, scotching the performance. Yet the final chapter of _Atonement_ asserts he was bitterly disappointed at not acting in it. To the extent that decades later he organized this performance, and is tearfully grateful to see it. This is pure wish fulfillment. Briony is giving herself a happy ending that she did not give Robbie and Cecilia--though she's still contemplating the latter.

    Much more interesting is the description of the central event, Lola's sexual violation. Fifteen-year-old Lola is socially sophisticated--her mother just publicly eloped to Paris with a lover. Lola dresses and acts as much like an adult as she can. She's very pretty, dresses attractively, and her grooming and makeup are impeccable. Her interaction with the wealthy young chocolate magnate Paul Marshall is distinctly flirtatious. Like other girls of her generation, Lola would have been brought up to marry well, and Paul is an excellent catch. In another two or three years, Lola would be brought out into society, where her pursuit of a husband would be entirely acceptable.

    While Briony is helping everyone to hunt for her runaway twin cousins, she checks the 18th-century "ruined villa" on an little island in the little lake. A spot that is both romantic, and easy for non-residents to locate (Paul Marshall has never visited the house before). Here she discovers Lola with a man on top of her, and immediately assumes this is a rape. Three years later, when Lola marries Paul Marshall, Briony admits the man was Paul. However, Briony, who her sister Cecilia describes as "a young thirteen," is not at the time sophisticated enough to understand the difference between consensual sex and rape. Only a few hours earlier, Briony discovered Cecilia and Robbie having enthusiastic sex in the library, assumed it was rape, and they have not had an opportunity to tell her otherwise. Very possibly Lola's sexual act is also quite willing, and Briony realizes that when she is somewhat older. Even Briony marvels that Lola "fell in love with her rapist."

    When Briony discovers Lola and Paul, Paul immediately flees, leaving Lola to deal with the problems. And they have several. If it's consensual sex, Lola's aunt, uncle, and parents will be furious at her for losing her virtue. They'll be even more angry at Paul, who is a responsible adult. Paul can't immediately marry Lola to repair the damage--she's so young that "people would talk." Also, Lola's uncle (Briony's father) works for the War Ministry, and Paul is angling for a very lucrative army-provisioning contract. It's likely that Lola's uncle could make sure he didn't get it.

    And here, Lola gets lucky: Briony, carefully led on, is willing to help Lola call the event a rape and to pin the blame on Robbie. Paul Marshall may merely have had a little sexual amusement in mind. But now that they've been seen, Lola could blackmail Paul into marrying her as soon as she's of age, by threatening to reveal the truth. Everything works out for them. Lola gets her wealthy husband and hangs onto him for the rest of her life. Paul gains his army contract. He also marries a woman whom he was attracted to when she was 15 and who is even prettier at 18.

    I suspect that close examination of _Atonement_ would reveal additional examples of Briony as an unreliable narrator.

    ...more info
  • dense with thought and imagery, sensually textured
    Ian McEwan's absorbing novel will transport the reader quickly into the world of 13 year old Briony Tallis and the people who surround her. The first part of the book lyrically describes a lost world, pre-WW II Britain, and the privileged life of the Tallises. We are transported into the rich inner world of Briony as we glide through her acute perceptions and fanciful imaginings.

    The second part of the book, containing graphic descriptions of a brutal war, is rather rough going. As a mother, I found myself identifying with Briony's mother, Emily, whose life was devoted to protecting and nourishing her offspring; and then, contrasting Emily's constant attending, multi-tasking, balancing often conflicting motives among her children---to the merciless scenes of destruction and death during WWII.

    The central theme is Briony's misunderstanding of two encounters between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, and the disaster this brings upon them. Despite the serious repercussions, this misunderstanding could be viewed on one level as a slender thread upon which to hang a novel. McEwan's masterful presentation of inner and outer realities, and his depiction of a long-ago time with its pleasures and horrors, elevates his tale into an artful endeavor to be savored. ...more info
  • A Mistake in Perception Has Tragic Consequences
    Wow! There are almost 800 reviews already for this book. I'm glad about that because this is a book that should be read.

    Ian McEwan certainly has a way with words. This novel is beautifully written and the plot is so intricately developed that it reminds me of Russian stacking dolls.

    Without giving away the crux of this wonderful book, let me say that it weaves in and out of the present into the past and back again. In World War I England, Briany a young impressionable girl, witnesses an event that she misinterprets. Does she really believe what she says she saw or does she tell a tale for her own devices? Regardless of her motives, her story has lifelong irrevocable implications for her sister and her lover.

    This is a book that will be long remembered once the last page is read. It is poignant, tragic and beautiful. I feel enriched for having read it....more info
  • An atonement?
    This was my first Ian McEwan read, and it was a good one. This was an interesting story though not really a whole lot happened in it, and somehow it went for a few hundred pages. The reason for that was McEwan's precise and extensive descriptions of characters' thoughts and the story's various settings. McEwan is rather amazing at imagining the possible details of a one's thoughts, details that most people might not ordinarily be conscious of, but upon reading them ring true. The limited plot is lengthened also by the story being told from several viewpoints, particularly in Part 1. It was all very intelligently done.

    But was there really any atonement in this story? At least atonement when it counted? I don't know if the title really applied considering how things turned out.

    I hadn't ever planned to see the movie. Seemed to be a chic flick, but after this reading, I plan to rent/on demand it. I guess by being from the England and reading it while on my recent trip there, I appreciated an English story....more info
  • Literary Torture
    Absolutely hated this book. I didn't read it all the way through, but I figure 260 pages of literary torture was enough. How this book has been so well received and turned out a movie is beyond my comprehension. This book was entirely inaccessible and boring. I hated the long winded laments on architecture and gardens and I hated and didn't identify with any of the characters. This has been the worst book I've read in a decade at least.

    After finding out the ending to this book after getting half way through it, I realized that the end could never justify the means. Many people disagree with this, but I just can't be bothered to read the rest of this book as it's more effective than ambien at putting me to sleep....more info