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 prose.
On a hot 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 and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’ s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives.
As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Romance, class tensions, the evils of war, struggles with the past—Atonement is a modernist masterpiece. During a heat wave in 1935, 13-year-old Briony falsely accuses her sister’s lover of sexual assault; the effects of her lie ripple for years to follow. Ian McEwan conjures scenes with such sensory nuance that we weren’t just imagining the languid, sunbaked afternoon at Briony's family estate—we were diving into the pool, feeling the bracing water on our faces. McEwan’s level of detail translates beautifully into the film starring Kiera Knightly.
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 th 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.
From the beginning Briony was my least favorite of the characters in the book. I hated her complicity in the trials of Robbie and Cecelia. I did like the ending except for the realization that Robbie and Cecelia were both killed in 1940 and never able to realize their redemptive love. If, as Briony’s character stipulates the novel would not be as pleasing to the audience should she not create a different ending in the book to be published after her death, why does she not let us believe they had a happy life ever after? I hate creative license—I prefer novels to be tied up wth a big red bow of happiness!
An absolute, beautiful read.
I was not looking forward to reading this because I was not a huge fan of the movie, and do not usually like romance-focused stories. However this book is far from just a romance, it is a very adventurous novel. I think people in the medical field, like myself, will especially enjoy it. It is now in my top 3 favorite books of all time.