- Paperback: 351 pages
- Publisher: Anchor Books; 1st edition (February 25, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 038572179X
- ISBN-13: 978-0385721790
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1,239 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,364 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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Top customer reviews
The movies is good, too! The book is better.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
As people in my book club said, much of the first half of the book was uphill, but the...Read more