Atonement by Ian McEwan

I have long wanted to watch Atonement, which I tried once a few years ago, and then gave up on minute four. Because, if a film is that good, how is the novel it is based on supposed to be? Well, Ian McEwan’s most famous work is the masterpiece that I thought, and even more.

It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you

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Atonement tells the story of Briony Tallis, her older sister, Cecily Tallis, and the family long-time friend, Robbie Turner in 1935 England. Briony is thirteen, and she wants to be a writer, she has even transitioned from fiction to drama as her cousins from the North arrive to her Surrey residence to escape a scandal in the family. So, while waiting for everyone to join rehearsals, Briony is witness to a suspicious scene: her sister, Cecily, is getting out of the fountain, while Robbie simply looks. Briony feels there is something wrong with it, but what? And this is where McEwan’s genius comes into full force: by describing the very same scene from the point of view of the three main characters, he manages to put the reader in the shoes of Briony, Cecily, and Robbie, in a way I had never experienced before. For Briony, there is something wrong born out of her coming-of-age own personal narrative. For Cecily, it is the first stage in the recognition of her own romantic feelings. And for Robbie, it is the beginning of his narrative.

Because Atonement is such a masterpiece, I am not giving away anything more. I really think this is a book that will appeal to a wide audience. The characters’ voices are so clear and well-defined, that it is worth a study on characterisation. The themes are so many, and treated in such complex ways, that the novel deserves a full- Humanities approach to get the analysis it deserves. The historical depiction of the troubled and uncertainty that made the 1930’s in England could very well make for a History thesis. And, one of the themes in especial is so close to feminist studies, that I wish I had read this book years ago, so that I could have written an essay during my degree on it.

Many people on my Twitter feed had told me that the 2007 film adaptation – starring Keyra Knightley as Cecily, James McAvoy as Robbie, and Saoirse Ronan as Briony – is one of the best they have seen. I do not doubt it, but I am still mourning the last few chapters of the book. Not since Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life had a book left such a strong impression on me. Loss, death, and frustration come high on the list of feelings that Atonement presents to the reader, but there are still images flashing on my mind from a love scene at the library. And I hope, they will never go away.

For the moment, there seemed no way out with words.

10 thoughts on “Atonement by Ian McEwan

  1. Lovely review! I really wanted to enjoy Atonement, but I couldn’t get into it at all. I think because I had no interest in Robbie, his whole war bit bored me. Which is a shame, as I understood it was good, just not for me perhaps.

    1. Hi, Alice! I totally understand what you mean. I was very interested in Cecily and Robbie’s love story, and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I realised I had to read his war narrative. But, at the same time, McEwan’s writing is so good that it moved me to tears. At least you got to read the love scene in the library, right? That is more than enough πŸ˜›

    1. I can’t wait to read more by McEwan, if his other works are nearly as good as Atonement. Which one would you recommend me?

  2. Aaaaaaallllll the feels with this book, all the feels (no matter how many times I’ve read this book, the ending still kicks me in the gut) <3 I'm happy you enjoyed it, Elena.

    Just to comment on the above comment: my second favourite novel by McEwan after Atonement was Amsterdam πŸ™‚

    1. For the good and the bad, eh? I am still fascinated by the love scene at the library. And I’m still mourning the disclousure of Cecily and Robbie’s real life story. So simple – just a line – but it brings you to tears…

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