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342 of 383 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Trials of a summer night
This is an engaging story and so finely written that the reading is both effortless and seductive. After I had finished (that is, after drying my eyes and regaining my breath), I was amazed to realize how complex a plot it is considering how smoothly it is told. By far, it is the best book I have read in years.
The story starts on a summer day at a large country...
Published on April 11, 2003 by Charles Slovenski

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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars beautiful prose--shaky plot
I think the writing style in this book is powerful: I was impressed by McEwan's evocation of the different characters' thoughts and interpretations (sometimes misinterpretations) of the same events, and I enjoyed his prose (though I didn't like his occasional laziness, such as when a character states an opinion in the first section of the book, and is given the opposite...
Published on February 1, 2003 by LifeboatB


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342 of 383 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Trials of a summer night, April 11, 2003
By 
Charles Slovenski (Geneva Switzerland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Paperback)
This is an engaging story and so finely written that the reading is both effortless and seductive. After I had finished (that is, after drying my eyes and regaining my breath), I was amazed to realize how complex a plot it is considering how smoothly it is told. By far, it is the best book I have read in years.
The story starts on a summer day at a large country estate in pre-WWII England. For anyone who delights in the heady mix of intelligence, innocence and youthful imagination, the beginning is like eating rich chocolate: 13 year old Briony has written a play -- the references to Austen, Burney, and family performances within 18th century lore are abundant and perfect -- to be rehearsed and performed by her unwilling and displaced visiting cousins in order to celebrate her brother's return to home with his sophisticated friend. However, reheasals in the playroom for THE TRIALS OF ARABELLA (of course) do not run smoothly: the twins boys do not understand what is expected of them; there's tension between Briony and 15 year old Lola. During the hot summer afternoon, Briony looks out the window to see her older sister Cecilia and Robbie, the cleaning lady's son, having what looks like some kind of menacing (and intimate) interaction in the fountain. The rest of the day's events and mishaps play out without implication until nightfall when a real crime of a sexual nature occurs and Briony's overactive imagination and lack of sophistication lead her to make a accusation which results in genuine tragedy for everyone. Without revealing the entire plot and overwhelming descriptions of war and survival, Briny spends her life paying for this mistake. Near the end of her long life, and having enjoyed without enjoyment a successful writing career, Briony's birthday is celebrated by her relations. This party is held at the old country house, now a renovated hotel, where her grand nieces and nephews perform THE TRIALS OF ARABELLA, a deeply emotional and incomprehensible experience for all (the surviving twin boy, now an old man, breaks down completely, as will nearly every reader).
This book goes into my unofficial rank as one of the best reading experiences I've ever had. It tooks me days to shake the feeling that Briony was a part of my life. I was completely transported and I don't think there can be better praise than that.
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442 of 499 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If God were a novelist, March 13, 2002
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Hardcover)
I picked up this good-looking book with no advance knowledge of its plot - just a liking for other works of its author - and I'm grateful for that, and won't give away the story here. I was grabbed by its first description, and held closely throughout. McEwan has created characters who are so fully realized that I felt as if I had known them for years. It's an amazing story, though not at all far-fetched. It's slyly easy to read - think "page-turner" - but it is about vitally important things. In addition considerable historic research went into it, and that's a delicious plus.
McEwan invites you into an English world that you will smell, hear, feel, and taste - and your mind and emotions will be fully engaged. The family has money and servants but this is nothing you've seen on television or the movies. The story is told with discipline and control, and from several points of view. The people are palpably real. It's a tightly organized and satisfying assemblage of the things that matter, among them family life, childhood, debt and obligation, loyalty, imagination, faith and hope, innocence and guilt, love, desire, varieties of destruction - and the urge to make a difference. Finally: war and peace. (In fact, you might be reminded of Tolstoy in more than a few ways.) In addition it's a fierce and moving meditation on the life of the mind and creativity. At the same time, McEwan's powers of description are such that all of your senses are never anything but fully engaged. English country life in the 1930's - a heat wave, and the fragrance of wildflowers, the feel of a silk dress that is sticking to skin, the thick dark of a moonless summer night - through the horrors of the Second World War (Dunkirk most dramatically and effectively) and beyond. It is either sheer brilliance, or a deeply humane urge, or maybe just a workmanlike sense, but McEwan takes full responsibility for each of his characters- and sees them through to the end.
Nearly every page has something unselfconsciously remarkable to think about - or to reconsider. I used my pencil throughout; there is so much that is wise or just plain awe-inspiring in this book. McEwan has accomplished something amazing. I'm telling friends to read the book first, reviews second. The story is so terrific, and so moving and important - and might unfold best for the reader who comes to it blissfully uninformed. It's not very often that I've felt transformed by a novel. Read it as soon as you can.
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73 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crime without punishment, November 11, 2002
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Hardcover)
A number of reviews have summarized the story of the 'crime' of 13 year-old Briony and the resulting dramatic changes that occur in the lives of the key characters: in addition to the young girl, her older sister Cecilia, her cousin as well as the son of the housekeeper, Robbie. The first part of the book covers one hot summer day in rural England in 1935 where the tragedy unfolds. The atmosphere is masterfully evoked and the evolving drama sensitively depicted. To this reader the most successful facet of the chapter and the novel overall is the characterization of Briony. In many ways, this is Her story, seen from different angles and from different time perspectives. She is, as the late arrival to her parents, a typical mix of a spoilt and neglected child. She lives in her own fantasy world where the realities of her surroundings are mixed in with the wild imaginations of a romantic of her age. McEwan captures the capricious teenager very well indeed. He also paints an excellent portrait of the upper-middleclass family and its open and hidden frustrations and tensions. Cecilia is also well drawn as the returning fresh (women's) college graduate. She tends to replace the mother for Briony and a set of cousins, but at the same time she is uncertain of her own identity. This part of the book is the most engaging, it draws the characters well and builds up the tension up to the 'crime'.
The rest of the novel does not maintain the momentum created. The story picks up five years later with Robbie at the front in France after having spent the intervening years in prison for THE crime, which he did not commit. Briony, obviously in part as a result of her guilt for blaming Robbie rather than the real aggressor in a false testimony, has decided to train as a nurse in London. We also learn that her actions resulted in her sister refusing to communicate with her and the rest of the family.
One wonders why the very detailed description of the retreat from the front to Dunkirk with a wounded Robbie as the main character was necessary. Based on extensive research of historical documents, McEwan offers an excellent account of the dramas of that retreat, however, its significance for this particular story is not evident. The incidental facts one learns about the intervening years, the protagonists and their changed relationships do not justify the importance given to this chapter. The exception is the description of Briony's life as a nurse which is more to the point. An extensive duty period where she is suddenly confronted with the dramatic influx of seriously wounded soldiers leaves a deep impression. The learning curve that changes her from an innocent and irresponsible 18 year old to an adult during those hours is well drawn. Her actions following this experience, although somewhat unconvincing, are intended to demonstrate her resolve to confront her 'atonement'.
The novel ends with an epilogue set some 55 years later. It depicts Briony as a successful writer of a certain age. While preparing for a birthday party in her honour, she reflects not only on her life but also on the question of atonement. I agree with those reviewers who commented on the weakness of the ending of the novel. The concept of a story in a story and the author's privilege to change major aspects of the story line to give it more of 'happy ending', does not sound quite convincing. Atonement is not achieved by making the characters survive and live happily ever after. Briony, even at 77, remains the capricious little person that she was at 13. She still invents fantasies and refuses to take responsibility for her actions.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, March 26, 2003
By 
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Paperback)
I loved this book. I've read many of the reviews here on Amazon and feel that a lot of them are over-critical. This is a beautiful story seeping heartbreak on every page, all the result of the destructive imagination of a child. It is very easy to hate Briony for the way her actions have destroyed the happiness of her sister and Robbie, but I believe that's quite unfair. She acts with the innocence of a child at a particular age who wants to be accepted by the adult world. She is placed in a very difficult situation and the court's readiness to pass judgement on the strength of her evidence alone is, I believe, just as much a crime as her lies.
One criticism I would accept is that Ian McEwan could have shown us more of Briony's stubborn attachment to the lie she has convinced herself is true. At what point did she start having doubts? When we meet up with her again towards the end of the book she is five years older and fully aware that Robbie is innocent. It would have allowed the reader to have more sympathy towards her if we could have seen her reaction as the truth of what she had done slowly grew larger on her conscience.
The book is split into four sections. The first details life in the Tallis family home in the mid-1930s and gives us an introduction to the characters and description of the assault and Briony's lie. This section of the book slowly builds - some reviewers say they found this boring but I did not. I enjoyed hearing about life in the household. I could empathise with Briony's playwriting attempt and its sabotage at the hands of her slightly older cousin. McKewan vividly describes events and allows us upfront access into his characters' minds which makes his writing very enjoyable to read. I found this first section to be like the first scene in a whodunit mystery, before the detective comes to investigate and letting the skeletons out of the cupboard. Except there was no Poirot to come and uncover the truth but instead an injustice was allowed. Nevertheless, a whodunit was created that would later be explained at the end of the book. I counted three suspects, each with an opportunity to commit the crime.
The second section of the book jumps forwards to the Second World War and the British army's retreat from France. The jump is a little jarring and it takes a while to adjust to the new surroundings. But I think it successfully creates the feeling that regardless of an injustice in the past, life carries on and doesn't stop to allow justice to be done. Events move on and people get on with their lives and the injustice is largely forgotten. Robbie, a mere private in the army, despite his education, is retreating to Dunkirk in an attempt to get back to England. His only motivation to survive comes from the knowledge that Cecilia is waiting for him to return - he had only just come out of prison before having to leave for the war. Here is where McKewan description is exemplary. The chaotic retreat comes to life and Robbie's aching desire to see his lover again is easy to feel.
The third part of the book catches up with Briony. She now knows her crime and seeks atonement for it. Partly to try to compensate for the pain she has caused, she forgoes university and becomes a nurse, just in time for the casualties from France to start arriving. Briony attempts reconciliation with her sister. The key twists in the plot are at this point so I won't go further except to say that McKewan plays with your expectations perfectly so that the revelations are dramatic.
Finally we jump forwards to the present day. Briony is an old lady and a famous writer but she is dying. She tells us her story and we are rewarded with another twist to the book which puts everything we have read into a new light.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone looking for rewarding modern literature. Clearly from the reviews this book is not to everyone's tastes but I must admit I find this puzzling as I adored it and will now be searching out other Ian McKewan books to read.
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53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing plot, and rare entree into the mind of a writer., September 18, 2005
Though this book is only of average length, it has the feel of a big family saga, so completely does McEwan delve into the consciousness of his main characters as they attempt to cope with the long-term repercussions of a "crime" committed by a Briony Tallis, a naïve 13-year-old with a "controlling demon." Briony's "wish for a harmonious, organised world denie[s] her the reckless possibilities of wrongdoing," so it is doubly ironic that her attempt to "fix" what she sees as wrongdoing involving her sister and Robbie Turner, a childhood friend, becomes, in itself, a wrongdoing, one she feels compelled to deny and for which she will eventually attempt to atone.

Opening the novel in 1935, McEwan creates an intense, edgy, and almost claustrophobic mood. England is on the brink of war; Briony, a budding writer, is on the edge of adolescence; her newly graduated sister Cecilia is thinking of her future life; and Robbie is about to start medical school. The summer is unusually hot. Troubled young cousins have arrived because their parents are on the verge of divorce; Briony's mother is suffering from migraines; her father is "away," working for the government; her adored brother Leon and a friend have arrived from Cambridge; and Briony, an "almost only child," with a hypersensitive imagination, finds her world threatened.

Step by step, McEwan leads his characters to disaster, each individual action and misstep simple, explainable, and logical. The engaged reader sees numerous dramatic ironies and waits for everything to snap. When Briony finally commits her long-foreshadowed "crime," the results are cataclysmic, and the world, as they know it, ends for several characters.

Giving depth to his themes of truth, justice, honesty, guilt and innocence, and punishment and atonement, McEwan uses shifting points of view and an extended time frame. Part I is Briony's. In Part II, five years after the crime, Robbie, now a footsoldier retreating from the French countryside to Dunkirk, continues the same themes, seeing the crimes of war, not only between the combatants but against civilians and, at Dunkirk, by the Brits against each other. In Part III, Briony, atoning for her earlier crime by working as a student nurse, rather than studying to be a writer, brings the past and present together, tending the casualties of war. The ending takes place in 1999, at her 77th birthday party.

This is a totally absorbing, fully developed novel, the kind one always yearns for and so rarely finds. The characters, the atmosphere, the lush descriptions, the sensitively treated themes, the intriguing and unusual plot, and the rare entrée into the mind of a writer, both Briony and McEwan, give this novel a fascination few others achieve. It's hard to put this one down. Mary Whipple
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reminiscent of Henry James, but with a touch of metafiction, August 19, 2002
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Hardcover)
Ian McEwan's Atonement has the feel of classical literature: an elegant and slightly formal style, generous details, and a straightforward plot. Briony Tallis, a spoiled British 13 year old, spies her older sister Cecilia and the caretaker's son Robbie as they wrestle with an antique vase next to a fountain. Although Briony imagines herself as mature, she does not yet have an adult understanding of the world. When the events that follow do not fit her scope of comprehension, she forces them into place with a lie that forever changes the people she involves. The novel follows the principals through the war and ends as Briony faces her own mortality in 1999.
Especially during the first part (there are four) which takes place just before World War II, I could not help thinking of Henry James and his intricate exploration of character and relationships. I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading a contemporary novel. The only aspect that jarred me into the 21st century was McEwan's use of metafiction (fiction about writing fiction.) Briony is an aspiring writer when the story begins, but we are told almost from the start that she will become an accomplished novelist. Throughout, Briony is keenly aware of the demands of her craft and how they distort the truth. As the novel progresses, the reader is made more and more aware of this self-conscious side until the end, when the final section deals with this issue alone.
Personally, I'm tired of metafiction and find it contrived; however, McEwan's polished writing atones for this literary sin. The details of life both before and during the war are extraordinary, as are the intricate characterizations. Although parts of this novel are overdone, it is McEwan's expertness that triumphs.
Atonement is a fine book that deserves widespread attention. I recommend this book for serious readers and those who yearn for more classicism in contemporary literature. You'll want to skip this novel, however, if you don't have the patience for detail or are looking for a suspenseful or complicated plot.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent!!, January 19, 2003
By 
Peter Wims (Indianapolis, IN) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Hardcover)
After finishing this wonderful novel, the first of McEwan's I have read, I came on line to read some reviews. Those that hated the book genuinely puzzled me. I found it absolutely enthralling.
McEwan evokes such an immediate sense of time and place despite switching locales and timelines, that the reader is drawn in further and further. The book soars on several levels: the tale of the crime and its repercussions, the Writer-as-God aspect that ultimately envelopes the entire narrative, to name but two. In addition, there is the wonderful use of information NOT revealed, be it secondary characters such as Lola and Marshall into who's heads we barely get a glimpse.
This book is a wonderful read. With subtle similarities to The English Patient amongst others, it is the most thought provoking character study told from multiple points of view I have read since The Poisonwood Bible. Highly recommended!!
I, too, plan on exploring all of Mr. McEwan's work.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Be prepared to stay up late!, March 15, 2002
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Hardcover)
Though this book is only of average length, it has the feel of a big family saga, so completely does McEwan delve into the consciousness of his main characters as they attempt to cope with the long-term repercussions of a "crime" committed by a Briony Tallis, a naïve 13-year-old with a "controlling demon." Briony's "wish for a harmonious, organised world denie[s] her the reckless possibilities of wrongdoing," so it is doubly ironic that her attempt to "fix" what she sees as wrongdoing involving her sister and Robbie Turner, a childhood friend, becomes, in itself, a wrongdoing, one she feels compelled to deny and for which she will eventually attempt to atone.

Opening the novel in 1935, McEwan creates an intense, edgy, and almost claustrophobic mood. England is on the brink of war; Briony, a budding writer, is on the edge of adolescence; her newly graduated sister Cecilia is thinking of her future life; and Robbie is about to start medical school. The summer is unusually hot. Troubled young cousins have arrived because their parents are on the verge of divorce; Briony's mother is suffering from migraines; her father is "away," working for the government; her adored brother Leon and a friend have arrived from Cambridge; and Briony, an "almost only child," with a hypersensitive imagination, finds her world threatened.

Step by step, McEwan leads his characters to disaster, each individual action and misstep simple, explainable, and logical. The engaged reader sees numerous dramatic ironies and waits for everything to snap. When Briony finally commits her long-foreshadowed "crime," the results are cataclysmic, and the world, as they know it, ends for several characters.

Giving depth to his themes of truth, justice, honesty, guilt and innocence, and punishment and atonement, McEwan uses shifting points of view and an extended time frame. Part I is Briony's. In Part II, five years after the crime, Robbie, now a footsoldier retreating from the French countryside to Dunkirk, continues the same themes, seeing the crimes of war, not only between the combatants but against civilians and, at Dunkirk, by the Brits against each other. In Part III, Briony, atoning for her earlier crime by working as a student nurse, rather than studying to be a writer, brings the past and present together, tending the casualties of war. The ending takes place in 1999, at her 77th birthday party.

This is a totally absorbing, fully developed novel, the kind one always yearns for and so rarely finds! The characters, the atmosphere, the lush descriptions, the sensitively treated themes, the intriguing and unusual plot, and the rare entrée into the mind of a writer, both Briony and McEwan, give this novel a fascination few others achieve. It's hard to put this one down! Mary Whipple
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74 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable, June 12, 2002
By 
sweetmolly (RICHMOND, VA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Hardcover)
Briony Tallis, 13, has written a play in honor of her idolized older brother's homecoming. It is 1935, the hottest day of summer in a charming country property in England. Briony has rather arbitrarily assigned parts to her young cousins who will be arriving shortly. Briony, of course, has the lead. Older sister Cecilia is readying the house for the party, as the mother as usual is indisposed. Robbie, the brilliant son of the housemaid, is also returning from University, his education financed by Mr. Tallis. The stage is set for Briony to put in motion terrible events that will change the lives of every person in this halcyon setting.
"Atonement" is written in four books, The Crime, The War, The Atonement, and The 1999 Reunion. Mr. McEwen's prose is a delight: languorous, taut, whatever the situation calls for. The dialogue is crisp and rings true for all characters. The complete change of pace when we follow Robbie through the fall of Dunkirk is breathtaking. It is that most excruciating military situation: the command has broken down; all are on their own. The Atonement itself has the hard clarity of cold winter sunlight on a city street. The author has more to tell than the story at hand; he speaks of writing and the duties of authors to their readers, all without ever wandering away from the storyline.
I cannot wait to read "Amsterdam," Mr. McEwen's earlier novel. His writing is magical. - And, oh yes, "Atonement" has a twist at the end that will shock and upset you for days. Do yourself a favor, and read it.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Novel Novel, May 28, 2002
By 
S. G. Allen "gallerygirl" (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Hardcover)
I have only read Amsterdam and Atonement, A Novel by Ian McEwan. Now I want to read the lot. McEwan has a captivating style. He writes for the reader who savors wit and language and character and untidiness. His stories are dark only in the way that life can be when people presume rather than understand.
The many characters in Atonement are richly drawn. McEwan first introduces the most significant character, Briony Tallis, the precocious "baby" of her family, fussing over a play she hopes will cause her older brother to follow a more promising romantic path. Briony is caught up in a fairy tale interpretation of life with no allowances for wrong doing. The Narrator describes her as a thirteen year old fantasist and control freak realizing that childhood has ended but still imagining that she has the power to right all the wrongs in her family's world. She misinterprets events early on, and the rest of the story for her family and several pivotal charaters is shaded by the results of her willful and disastrous commitment to her interpretation. I feared I would find Briony tedious and hateful as the novel commenced, but I believe she becomes more compelling as she "grows up" and honestly faces her responsibility in the complete disruption of her family and the estrangement of her older sister.
I enjoyed so many aspects of this book. I was particularly engaged by the Narrator's reflection on writing and the importance of books in shaping the intellectual and emotional life, and how the novel can only be trusted to reflect the author's idea of order or lack of it. I find it amusing that the Tallis family library figures subtly, but importantly into the story. The hope of atonement, sincerely and actively seeking absolution or forgiveness, is obviously important to this story, and as often happens, it is never achieved in the tidy way so many writers and readers would want to wind up the story. Briony desperately wants forgiveness, yet she never can forgive herself. Her adult life is shaped by this quest, and though she does achieve recognition and the respect of so many, she understands that she will leave the world having caused suffering that no novel can ever correct.
McEwan's endings are breathtaking in their irony and finality. The final pages of Atonement are truly gemlike in the facets they reveal about the Narrator and all the preceding pages.
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Atonement: A Novel
Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan (Paperback - February 25, 2003)
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