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Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement (2001)

by Ian McEwan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (442)  Dutch (6)  Spanish (5)  German (4)  Italian (3)  French (3)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Polish (1)  Catalan (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (469)
Showing 1-5 of 442 (next | show all)
This was my second reading of Atonement, this time venturing in along with the students in my Seminar in Historical Fiction. We also read quite a bit of critical material on the novel, and ultimately I enjoyed it much more than the first time around. (I changed my rating from three stars to 4.5, and, seeing as how I did not review the book then, I will do so now.)

Let me say first that I am a big fan of McEwan's work (although not so much the earlier novels that earned him the "Ian Macabre" moniker). It's not surprising that the very things that so many readers disliked are, for me, it's greatest strengths. If you are reading the novel solely as a linear story, you are likely to be irritated by the questions it poses about the process of writing, the "authority" of the author, the responsibilities of the writer to his or her subject and readers, and the readers' responsibilities. You'll probably hate the conclusion. And perhaps be annoyed by the "revisions" of the story as the third person narration moves shifts in time, place, and point of view--something I found particularly intriguing. McEwan plays with all kinds of additional lit crit-type things, including metafictional allusions to Jane Austen, Dante, Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, and more; and some heavy handed symbolism (the broken vase, the recurrence of threes).

The story itself--which is probably known well enough for me to skip a lengthy summary--is an intriguing one that eventually focuses on the issues of guilt, punishment, and atonement. It also examines the snobbery of the British class system (especially in the first section, set in 1935), the ugliness and inhumanity of war, the power of words and the imagination, and the painful coming of age of Briony Tallis, the central character. Written with a third person omniscient narrator, the novel is divided into four sections. The first is set in 1935 on the Tallis family's country estate. It's Briony's 13th birthday, and she plans to celebrate her brother's homecoming with a performance of the first play she has ever written, "The Trials of Arabella." But things go terribly wrong, disrupting Briony's penchant for order--for the world to be as she would have it be. Lola, Jackson, and Pierrot, cousins from the north who have arrived in the wake of their mother running off to France with a lover, are assigned parts in the play--but not necessarily the parts Briony intended, and their interpretations don't necessarily agree with her. In addition, the relationship between her sister Cecelia and Robbie Turner, the charwoman's son, which Briony imagined as a romance similar to that in her play, has taken a turn that confuses and surprises her. When a crime is committed, Briony's rigidly ordered and highly imagined world begins to fall apart.

I don't want to give away any more details that would spoil the reading experience, so let me say only that Part Two is told from Robbie's point of view as a soldier in France, heading towards the beach where the Dunkirk evacuation is about to occur; and Part Three relates Briony's wartime experiences as a nurse trainee. The last, and shortest, section jumps ahead to 1999 and is told, again, from Briony's point of view.

For me, Atonement is a rich novel that I know will take me deeper each time that I revisit it. I loved the metafictional elements, and I really enjoyed making a study of it this time rather than simply taking it on as pleasure reading. Highly recommended. ( )
2 vote Cariola | Apr 10, 2014 |
A revelationary final chapter - all very clever writing and an enjoyable reading expreience. Emotive and graphic chapters set during the war. ( )
  siri51 | Mar 20, 2014 |
This book was a slow start for me. The first half is reminiscent of Jane Austen or the Broente sisters, neither of which are quite my style.

But the second half of this book completely sweeps any boredom that the first half may have brought. It's not often that a novel touches me and makes me ache the way this one did.

See it through, you'll be glad that you did. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
I really wish I would've known about the book before seeing the movie, because of course I would've read the novel first. Because I saw the movie first, the book seemed a bit drawn out, overly descriptive and tedious. I felt like I could skip a few paragraphs, or even pages, and still not have missed out on the overall plot. This is a great reason I don't like watching the movies before reading the book. That said, I did absolutely love the original story line and overall plot. The exploitation of a child's innocence was taken in a grim view of over-fantasized dramatic life sequences that played off of that child's objection to reality, and later, guilt. This novel is quite the page turner. ( )
  Dnaej | Mar 14, 2014 |
I really wish I would've known about the book before seeing the movie, because of course I would've read the novel first. Because I saw the movie first, the book seemed a bit drawn out, overly descriptive and tedious. I felt like I could skip a few paragraphs, or even pages, and still not have missed out on the overall plot. This is a great reason I don't like watching the movies before reading the book. That said, I did absolutely love the original story line and overall plot. The exploitation of a child's innocence was taken in a grim view of over-fantasized dramatic life sequences that played off of that child's objection to reality, and later, guilt. This novel is quite the page turner. ( )
  Dnaej | Mar 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 442 (next | show all)
McEwan is technically at the height of his powers, and can do more or less anything he likes with the novel form. He shows this fact off in the first section of Atonement, in which he does one of the hardest things a good writer can do: engrossingly, sustainedly, and convincingly impersonate a bad one.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, John Lanchester (pay site) (Apr 11, 2002)
McEwan is crafty. Even as he shows us the damages of story-telling, he demonstrates its beguilements on every page. Atonement is full of timeworn literary contrivances--an English country house, lovers from different classes, an intercepted letter--rendered with the delicately crafted understanding of E.M. Forster.
added by Shortride | editTime, Richard Lacayo (Mar 25, 2002)
If it's plot, suspense and a Bergsonian sensitivity to the intricacies of individual consciousnesses you want, then McEwan is your man and ''Atonement'' your novel. It is his most complete and compassionate work to date.
Ian McEwan's remarkable new novel ''Atonement'' is a love story, a war story and a story about the destructive powers of the imagination. It is also a novel that takes all of the author's perennial themes -- dealing with the hazards of innocence, the hold of time past over time present and the intrusion of evil into ordinary lives -- and orchestrates them into a symphonic work that is every bit as affecting as it is gripping. It is, in short, a tour de force.
Ian McEwan’s new novel, which strikes me as easily his finest, has a frame that is properly hinged and jointed and apt for the conduct of the ‘march of action’, which James described as ‘the only thing that really, for me at least, will produire L’OEUVRE’.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ian McEwanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Basso, SusannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tanner, JillReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verhoef, RienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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"Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English: that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"
    They had reached the end of the gallery; and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
To Annalena
First words
The play – for which Briony had designed posters, programs and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crepe paper – was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.
Novels and movies, being relentlessly modern, propel you forwards or backwards through time, through days, years or even generations. But to do its noticing and judging, poetry balances itself on the pinprick of the moment. Slowing down, stopping yourself completely, to read and understand a poem is like trying to acquire an old-fashioned skill like drystone walling or trout tickling.
How much growing up do you need to do?
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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Briony’s tale begins with her restless and excited preparations for a play she had proudly written for her visiting older brother. The young girl's childish anxieties induce a light and amusing atmosphere for the story’s first few scenes. But soon enough, a series of baffling events takes place before Briony’s eyes and sets of her wildly-imaginative mind to believe a new story of her own creation. Coerced by her own impetuous sense of duty, she soon commits a “crime” that forever changes the lives of people around her, as well as her own. This highly-praised novel from Ian McEwan is no more of a love story than it is a contemplative essay on the rapturous highs and atrocious lows of our frail human existence.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 038572179X, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:33 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

In the summer of 1935 Briony Tallis misinterprets a moment's flirtation between her sister and the son of a servant. A crime occurs soon after, the repercussions of which are followed through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the 20th century.… (more)

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