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Atonement: A Novel Paperback – February 25, 2003
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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
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 the 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. (Mar. 19)Forecast: McEwan's work has been building a strong literary readership, and the brilliantly evoked prewar and wartime scenes here should extend that; expect strong results from handselling to the faithful. The cover photo of a stately English home nicely establishes the novel's atmosphere
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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However, most of the characters are so annoying, exept Robbie. And how is it that the police believe the story of a 13 year old child, resulting in a man being sent to jail? Surely they would and should investigate somewhat more closely and thoroughly, despite the class difference of the accuser and the accused? I had a hard time swallowing this.
The book moves very slowly and the ending, which I unfortunately envisioned as one of the scenarios, was very unsatisfying - but most likely the only possible one. Nobody really atoned, though. I wished I had gotten the book at the library first, as I finally gave it away.
A chain of events is set in motion with the prospective visit of brother Leon - sister Cecilia having already arrived for the summer. Briony has written a play, The Trials of Arabella, for the occasion, but her cousins conscripted as actors are proving to not be capable. Further frustrations and miscomprehensions occur as the romantic interactions of sister "Cee" and Robbie Turner, a gardener on the estate and Cambridge graduate subsidized by their family, prove to be the undoing of Briony. In fact, Briony is so mystified by what she sees that she fingers Robbie for an assault - not of Cee - because she is so certain that he is a maniac.
Briony after several years realizes her egregious mistake and its ramifications: Cecilia completely disowning her family and Robbie being incarcerated and forced to be a part of the English military force in France that failed to repel the Germans.
At the end we see the seventy-seven-year-old Briony having written her final novel, one of atonement, concerning the devastation that she has caused in the lives of two people with so much promise. And in fact, the novel here seems to be that novel with an ending that assuages the terrible guilt that Briony has born for nearly sixty-four years.
Beyond the basic plot, the book surely captures the flavor of the times and the world of social elites. The last half of the book movingly captures the horrors of WWII, especially for the English, by following Robbie in France and Briony as a probationary nurse in London. The movie with the same title is good, but the book is better.
His address was on free speech and impressed me. So, I decided to read one of his books, and chose Atonement. It was a good choice. The story took awhile to gain traction for me. However, I am an experienced enough reader to know a slow starter can turn out to be worth being patient which proved to be the case. Atonement is perfectly in step with the rich British literary tradition.