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Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement (2001)

by Ian McEwan

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19,30548583 (3.93)1 / 921
Authors:Ian McEwan
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Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)

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Showing 1-5 of 456 (next | show all)
My first time reading anything by Ian McEwan, I found Atonement to be a completely absorbing novel. It has 4 parts that are all quite different in era and setting. The characters were deep and believable and the writing style is top notch. I would definitely recommend this novel to others and would surely be interested in reading another McEwan novel. ( )
  briandarvell | Jan 3, 2015 |
Non è una passeggiata, questo libro di McE. E' una scalata verso il basso - ma non è una discesa. E' sentire precisamente di salire quando in realtà stai scendendo (Ivan Illich docet). Con solidità narrativa, con un utilizzo magistrale della lingua, McE. ci svela un mondo che non potrebbe essere più vivido neppure se lo avessimo vissuto in prima persona. Una capacità straordinaria di scrivere e descrivere un mondo di malizie adolescenziali, crudeltà adulte e tragedie epocali che nessun film potrà mai rendere appieno. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
“He walked/across/the land/until/he came/to the sea.

“A hexameter. Five iambs and an anapest was the beat he tramped to now” (p. 206).

The last work of Ian McEwen I read (a couple of years ago) was Amsterdam. As I said at the time, my only objection to Amsterdam was that “it’s a joke. A long, articulate, and entertaining joke, I grant you — but a joke nevertheless.” Atonement, I’m happy to say, is anything but a joke.

I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that Ian McEwan may’ve had Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace in mind when he wrote this novel. The stories bear similarities (the French Army’s retreat from Moscow; the British infantry’s retreat from Dunkirk; the utter banality, insipidness and absurdity of both the Russian and English aristocracies). If so, I’ll go further out on that same limb and suggest that Atonement is the better of the two novels. I grant you that I read only a translation of War and Peace, but Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky are serious and capable translators; I’ll assume that their translation of War and Peace is the real deal. And if it is, I’ll go one step further out on that limb and state categorically that Ian McEwan is the better of the two writers.

Ian McEwan — along with William Boyd and Michael Cunningham — revive my hope for English/American letters (i.e., belles lettres). With all of the tripe that’s now being published, these three authors remind us that good English-language literature still exists — and good writers with it.

I could go on and on about the virtues of Ian McEwan’s Atonement/B>, Instead, I’ll just quote a passage or two and let you — a potential reader — decide. On pp. 90-91, we have the following:

“On two occasions within half an hour, Cecilia stepped out of her bedroom, caught sight of herself in the gilt-frame mirror at the top of the stairs and, immediately dissatisfied, returned to her wardrobe to reconsider. Her first resort was a black crêpe de chine dress which, according to the dressing table mirror, bestowed by means of clever cutting a certain severity of form. Its air of invulnerability was heightened by the darkness of her eyes. Rather than offset the effect with a string of pearls, she reached in a moment’s inspiration for a necklace of pure jet. The lipstick’s bow had been perfect at first application. Various tilts of the head to catch perspectives in triptych reassured her that her face was not too long, or not this evening. She was expected in the kitchen on behalf of her mother, and Leon was waiting for her, she knew in the dressing room. Still, she found time, as she was about to leave, to return to the dressing table and apply her perfume to the points of her elbows, a playful touch in accord with her mood as she closed the door of her bedroom behind her.

“But the public gaze of the stairway mirror as she hurried toward it revealed a woman on her way to a funeral, an austere, joyless woman moreover, whose black carapace had affinities with some form of matchbook-dwelling insect. A stag beetle! It was her future self, at eighty-five, in widow’s weeds. She did not linger — she turned on her heel, which was also black, and returned to her room.”

I’ll be the first to confess that I have no idea what “pure jet” is, but no matter. I defy you to find another male writer who can climb into a woman’s head and describe that woman’s experience as convincingly as Ian McEwan has done here. And trust me: this is just one of dozens of such excerpts. I’ve chosen it not because it’s exceptional, but rather because it’s typical. Ian McEwen is a stylist par excellence (even if his use of “unreally” on p. 318 has me a bit perplexed)!

I’ll give no further hints about the plot-line other than to cite the following from p. 307 and let you decide for yourself, between the title of the book and this citation, what Atonement might be all about, and from whose point of view the story is being told:

“‘I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts will be disclosed, that if either of you know(s) of any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it.

“By my estimate, it was a very long time until judgment day, and until then the truth that only Marshall and his bride knew at first hand was steadily being walled up within the mausoleum of their marriage. There it would lie secure in the darkness, long after anyone who cared was dead. Every word in the ceremony was another brick in place.”

What can I say in conclusion? Only this: that Ian McEwan’s craft is the thing all of us who pretend to be writers can at best aim for. Can one read enough, study enough, build, hone and polish enough to come even close? I don’t know. All I know is that I came away from my reading of Atonement slightly depressed. ‘Depressed’ because of the subject-matter? No. Depressed because I realize yet again (as I realized after reading both William Boyd and Michael Cunningham) that I will never be at their level, will never have the gift they have, will never possess the means to move the magic from my fingertips through my pen that the three of them obviously possess.

Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
I would not have read and certainly would not have finished Atonement if it were not required reading for my English class.

Not much happens in Atonement. I can enjoy books were there's not much happening, but in that case I have to enjoy the characters.

I didn't enjoy these characters. They were not sympathetic, likable, admirable or even interesting.

Heck, the book isn't even funny. It's just dull.

In short, Atonement did not give me a reason to care.

I will say that I liked the second and third section more, but they were incredibly out of joint from the first section. These three sections felt like different books entirely and did just not fit together.

However, many members of my English class are in spasms of delight over this book, so presumably they're getting something I'm not. When I say that I don't like Atonement, I'm normally accused of only liking fantasy and books where things explode, which doesn't take into account how much I like Jane Austen or, say, East of Eden. There are plenty of interesting "literary" books where things happen or the characters are worth reading about. Atonement just isn't one of them.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
1 vote pwaites | Nov 28, 2014 |
Book Club book from State Library, January 2011
  deirdrebrown | Nov 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 456 (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
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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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Book description
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)

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Contemporary relationships. Nominated for 2001 Booker Prize.

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