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Espiazione by Ian McEwan
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Espiazione (original 2001; edition 2005)

by Ian McEwan

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18,81447187 (3.93)1 / 858
Zeruhur's review
Espiazione è un romanzo di sentimenti, ancora prima che di persone, di fatti e di luoghi. I sentimenti sono assoluti e crudi, come dovrebbero essere e quando l'amore è rappresentato è travolgente, così come la gelosia e la coggiutaggine infantili che sono il motore dell'intera triste vicenda.
La penna di McEwan è elegante, crea un'atmosfera palpabile e tratteggia scenari e vicende umane sin troppo verosimili. Come nella realtà, in Espiazione la vita non è un idillio. C'è la guerra a separare le persone e soprattutto c'è il risentimento e il senso di colpa a divedere due sorelle.
Briony porta il peso di una colpa per cui non potrà mai avere perdono. Ma avendo il dono della scrittura le viene data facoltà di fare ammenda per il proprio peccato, in un modo inaspettato che sarà appannaggio solo di chi concluderà il romanzo.
McEwan divide il romanzo in quattro parti (tre parti e un epilogo). La prima occupa la prima metà del libro ed è, per quanto fondamentale, la meno incisiva. Bellissima la seconda parte che rappresenta la guerra dal punto di vista di una manciata di soldati e non ammantata di risvolti pattriottici, ma vista da un punto di vista meramente umano. In questa vediamo lo svolgersi, tramite flashback della vera e propria storia d'amore. Nella terza parte attraverso gli occhi di una Briony diciotenne si giunge alla conclusione del racconto, del percorso di espiazione di una giovane donna che ha capito l'errore sciocco commesso durante l'infanzia ma che sa che di aver perduto per sempre una sorella.
In realtà poi l'epilogo ci riporta nuovamente alla cruda realtà che non è di certo preferibile ad una versione più edificante sebbene meno veritiera. ( )
  Zeruhur | May 26, 2012 |
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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 |
This book is beautifully written. The author's descriptions of WWII battles and the lives of soldiers was amazing. I saw the movie based on the book a few years ago and loved it. I think if I hadn't seen the movie first, I would have loved the book even more. ( )
  jsamaha | Mar 14, 2014 |
Quite boring with too much wording. ( )
  sschaller | Feb 28, 2014 |
Okay, defininitely the best novel I've read yet this year. My problems with it were mostly my fault and not McEwan's. Firstly (and mostly), the Keira Knightley film is one of my favorites, and it is always a bit difficult to get through a novel when you know how it will end -- especially when it ends the way this one does. My only other real issue was that the very beginning was a bit dull, but the rest of it more than made up for it.

The positives, oh the positives. Briony is a truly fascinating character study. Is it problematic that I empathized with her? Maybe. Or maybe we're all supposed to understand the bizarre pleasure she gets out of things she shouldn't. Eh.

But the novel's true strength is the story. It's just plain good. I almost don't know how to describe it. Dramatic and tense and heartbreaking and historical and lovely, all without overdoing it. Plus it asks some very interesting questions about guilt and culpability and the ethicality of keeping a young girl as in the dark about sex as Briony is. ( )
  TurnThePaige | Feb 19, 2014 |
I love it. It was a booger to get through, but completely worth it. ( )
  mlyons1 | Feb 12, 2014 |
I remember that I really enjoyed this book, until I found out that Robbie and Cecilia were both dead!! Then I was really pissed and confused by it. I didn't get that Briony was actually writing the novel... the end really threw me.
The movie version does a pretty good job with the story, and is equally sad and really depressing. Minus the library sex scene, which is pretty great.
The SOUNDTRACK is excellent, another Dario Marianelli masterpiece. My advice? Skip the novel and the movie, and just get the soundtrack. ( )
  k8seren | Feb 6, 2014 |
Tragically beautiful. The last couple of pages lined my eyes with tears. ( )
  bethie-paige | Jan 29, 2014 |
Few books have affected my emotions as this one did. Mix together a thirteen girl possessed with an overactive imagination and a flair for the dramatic, who has a secret crush on a young man who she witnesses in an embrace with her sister, the social class system of the early 20th century and a manipulative cousin and you have the recipe for disaster. The pacing of this book is slow at the beginning but as the background is painted it speeds up to its inevitable and overwhelming conclusion. I loved this book! ( )
  mlbelize | Jan 27, 2014 |

I don't know why but it took me forever to read this book. 351 pages took me longer than it took to read A Storm of Swords. And it wasn't because I stopped to chew cud or something, it just did. I'd like to think it's because this is a strange novel - a novel that makes the reader expect epic, poetic justice(I'm thinking Count of Monte Christo); Briony dying heroically to save Cecilia(Robbie is so far away that it isn't possible), maybe even redemption(a far shot considering the size of the book) after a long arduous journey of atonement. But the novel rises above such cliched quests and events to give us an ending that I am both satisfied with and saddened by.

Even though I was annoyed with Briony all through Part One(and maddened beyond comprehension), the prose was too beautiful for me to stop reading(Part two is the really interesting part though). I can totally understand why this book was nominated for a Man Booker. Even though by 50 percent, I felt like I was watching a soap opera(oh, the drama!). That frame of mind was dispelled by the gritty Parts Two and Three, thankfully.

So, yes. Worth it, completely. Even if you feel like Part One isn't worth it. ( )
  ashpapoye | Jan 24, 2014 |
just plain boring ... ( )
  topcat21 | Jan 8, 2014 |
Virtuosic, but cold, ultimately. Self conscious, precious, brutal. I couldn't like any of the characters. Very depressing.
  RGilbraith | Jan 5, 2014 |
I may have just not been in the mood to read this novel, but I simply never really got into to it until very near the end. Most of the early novel is spent laying the scene for a crime which then haunts the lives of the characters for the rest of their lives. I found the concluding scenes the most interesting, as Briony, Cecilia, and Robbie finally confront each other and begin to come to terms with the price each has paid. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Dec 19, 2013 |
When I compiled my 102-must-read books list I put this book on it. I hadn't read it, or even read a review. It just seemed to be on everyone else's top 100 lists, it had a high rating and the blurb sounded interesting.

I am now half way through the book and I have no idea why anyone likes it.

The plot is basically:
Part 1
Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Followed by a Salem witch trial moment in which the thirteen year old protaganist vindictively points her finger at her sister's boyfriend and blames him for raping her cousin.

Part 2
I am going to read it as soon as I get this out but I am going to take a stab based purely on the picture on the front cover.Let's see how close I can get.

Everyone is five years older. Boyfriend leaves prison and goes to war to fight on front line. Protaganist feels guilty. blah blah blah blah, Protaganist uncovers truth and feels less guilty. Boy and girl get back together after he is wounded somehow.


The main antagonist, Briony, is a vindictive spoilt bitch. The whole book me of [b:The Crucible|17250|The Crucible|Arthur Miller|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1166805388s/17250.jpg|1426723] with a touch of [a:Virginia Andrews|4502621|Virginia Andrews|http://www.goodreads.com/images/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66.jpg]. Her character is oddly described, she is young and lacks knowledge and yet has these hugely complex thoughts. She is punishing the boyfriend and her sister for their sexuality.

The author has done everything by the book, but the result lacks personality. I get the tone that he is trying to set, but I am bored by it. The descriptions are neither too long nor too short, and yet I am bored by them. I feel like has anaylsed what is required for a perfect book, has inserted all the require elements and changed the names. The book feels like a fill-in-the-blank book. I can see why this was turned into a movie, I think the cast and crew would have been able to film it on auto-pilot.

The best bit of writing about the whole book is the back cover blurb. It is the only bit that is remotely interesting and it is probably the only reason so many copies have been sold.


ETA: I have finished the rest of the book. The second part was a little more interesting but the third part was worse then the first. There was nothing original about the book. Having the protaganist end the book as an eighty year old having a cup of tea and explaining how she actually wrote the book to get atonement is ridiculous.

Also, my earlier prediction for the ending of the book was spot on.

I want my time back.


( )
1 vote alsocass | Oct 12, 2013 |
Ian McEwan is an author I have ambivalent feelings toward. I have loved his work, hated his work or found it totally average. So, you understand why I picked this up with rather confused expectations. Thankfully though, this is one of the good ones. More than that in fact, it's one of the great ones!

Every word in Atonement is right. It's so wonderfully thought through. The narrative flows at exactly the right pace and the characters are fabulously sketched.

One of the most evocative & considered books I have read in many years. One for the favourites list I think. ( )
  ElaineRuss | Sep 23, 2013 |
I love the movie. I really do. However, there are special cases where the book is less vibrant than its adaptation and for me Atonement is one of them. If you haven't watch the movie yet, please do. It is one of my favorite movie of all time with great actors, actresses, cinematography and music and still have the ability to make me bawl.

Atonement is about the cowardice of a girl who think she knew everything and made a terrible mistake that tore apart the lives of her sister and her love because of a lie. The novel have won multiple of awards and claims for the writer's own prose and literary merits that I was surprised to experience how badly this novel behaved to me. I could say, I was fooled by Joe Wright's expertise that I never would have expected how badly constructed this book is.

I'm not kidding.

I do read classical works but I don't read much from the literary fiction genre but I do when I was really young. All of my utter distaste of the genre was reflected completely by this book. But I couldn't find a fault in trying but I did read so all of this is my opinion alone despite the long list of critical acclaim that this book have. I, however, am not pleased. (And started to sound british at this point)

Written in four parts, Atonement is a false-memoir and a romance that should have inspire some sort of feeling in it which I never seem to find anywhere among the inconsistent narrating which blind even the most intuitive readers into embracing this shit. The first part of the book which was bloated with unending prose that seemingly would frighten anyone who dare to disregard the genius of the man called McEwan. I was stunned by the ridiculousness of what I was about to immerse myself into as soon as I brace the essays (yes) of Briony Tallis.

In the adaptation, we are consistently aware of Briony as a writer by the clever typewriting sounds but in the book, we are constantly aware that Briony as self-absorbed writer who is so attuned to praises of her ability and her upbringing made her think she was an adult enough for situations that she think she knows but stupid enough not to be thorough in the first place.

Among other things, beside the occasional speaking lines, McEwan seems to have attention-deficit-inducing syndrome with his writing.

Yes, I know it was intended to reflect a thirteen year old point of view as a creative decision but at the end it provided a paradox where the author himself is writing a female version of himself into the book where the female version is writing about herself as the child and the young adult version of herself for most of the story. This confused me a lot at the beginning as it does at the end. Because I know how the story goes, so I wasn't as surprised by the resolution, instead, curiously, I found multitudes of plot holes in this.

Is that what literary fiction supposed to be? Hundred of pages of mindless writing with unimportant information wedge in an endless paragraph that begs for a heavy duty yellow highlighter?

Even the physicality of the book is deceiving. Because of the seemingly lack of consistent paragraphing and the tiny font would made one who have perfectly good reading sight to question its own ability to read. However, curiously if you increase the font to suit your reading comfort, you could only see unending lines and if you read closely, it doesn't even mean anything but redundant ramblings!

What made Atonement comfortable to be seen in the the form of a movie was the fact that Joe Wright was able to use the scene and fluently interpret it faithfully according to the novel. You don't really need to read a long paragraph when you could only see talented people doing everything non-verbally in several camera shots.

In fact, most of my favorite moment in the movie was the non-verbal parts which would be ridiculous that I would hate the book..... and yet I did.

I was trying to get into the mood of reading this book but I was intrinsically aware that I was almost halfway into the book and realize I was nowhere in the middle of the story where everything converge itself. I never seem to escape the bloated writings until Robbie's part of the story years after the first part of the book. Here is where I realized the limitation where McEwan has put himself into.

Maybe because he was able to be a man in the writing, he was able to translate himself well as Robbie than him as Briony. Robbie's voice only occurs several times in this book although briefly to allow more Briony into the storyline, but I found this is the only part that I identified where the book have soul in it. (However, it wouldn't be Atonement if the guy just wrote Robbie's story so...) Robbie's experience in war while reminiscing his stolen time with Cecilia and the letters was more pronounced in the book than the movie. Here as a man wrongly accused and was still suffering from the past which never seem to escape him, this was the part where the novel blossomed its core to the eyes.

But it didn't last.

Because this is also where Briony Tallis became Nurse Tallis. Curiously, the writing went from bloated to soulful to clinical in one go. Maybe because it was intended as that as a trainee nurse, but I seem to remember I was familiar with hospital setting and here I was faced by the most unsatisfactory realization where how some of these was also avoidable. Then I realized that at this point McEwan is really trying to make everything a tragedy without thinking how problematic his plot would become ; just by including Robbie's intention to be a doctor and both Cee and Briony as nurses.

The last time I checked, Robbie was a very well read student of both literature and basic medicine. He was already studying anatomy and psychology so wouldn't it be so suicidal to not consider reading up on basic pathology. In fact, he did want to go back to medical school after war and was consistently discussing with Cee about her life as a nurse and the subsequent cleverness in his military training that even several corporal was tagging along with him then wouldn't it be so idiotic and unconventional for an aspiring doctor to not take care of his injuries in the first place or not to realize something is wrong?

Maybe because it was Briony's take on Robbie's condition from the letters she received but it soon again we're overcome by another of those deary Briony narrating where she was cast into a tragic guilt-ridden character until the end of the third part of the book where we saw the resolution happening so suddenly. Perhaps as a way to satisfy the readers as the elder Briony maintained herself.

But.... when compared as a whole, the later part seems to be rushed and frankly never seem to look like it was done with the considerate 'care' like it was disjointed after the author's whole energy was spent perusing the first part under a microscope. Had the parts been consistent, it would have translated well in the novel.

And I don't even start on the whole character analysis from Cecilia, Emily, Paul Marshal, the twins and down to Lola incident. Like seriously, I could even start comparing how "Kasih Yang Suci" is really familiar with this book. I don't even have to go to the love scene. How is it one could make a love scene sounded sterile?

Frankly, the book is never about atoning anything. Its about Ian McEwan telling a short story and blew it up to make a redundant novel. Oh, of course, it was intended to be that way. Its literary fiction.

There are some part of the book which I like because of the movie but most of all, I'd rather stick to watching the movie instead of scanning a couple of pages of lines and trying to find the exact place where I like because Mr McEwan's intense dislike of paragraphing made my effort useless in non-ebook form. ( )
  aoibhealfae | Sep 23, 2013 |
I love the movie. I really do. However, there are special cases where the book is less vibrant than its adaptation and for me Atonement is one of them. If you haven't watch the movie yet, please do. It is one of my favorite movie of all time with great actors, actresses, cinematography and music and still have the ability to make me bawl.

Atonement is about the cowardice of a girl who think she knew everything and made a terrible mistake that tore apart the lives of her sister and her love because of a lie. The novel have won multiple of awards and claims for the writer's own prose and literary merits that I was surprised to experience how badly this novel behaved to me. I could say, I was fooled by Joe Wright's expertise that I never would have expected how badly constructed this book is.

I'm not kidding.

I do read classical works but I don't read much from the literary fiction genre but I do when I was really young. All of my utter distaste of the genre was reflected completely by this book. But I couldn't find a fault in trying but I did read so all of this is my opinion alone despite the long list of critical acclaim that this book have. I, however, am not pleased. (And started to sound british at this point)

Written in four parts, Atonement is a false-memoir and a romance that should have inspire some sort of feeling in it which I never seem to find anywhere among the inconsistent narrating which blind even the most intuitive readers into embracing this shit. The first part of the book which was bloated with unending prose that seemingly would frighten anyone who dare to disregard the genius of the man called McEwan. I was stunned by the ridiculousness of what I was about to immerse myself into as soon as I brace the essays (yes) of Briony Tallis.

In the adaptation, we are consistently aware of Briony as a writer by the clever typewriting sounds but in the book, we are constantly aware that Briony as self-absorbed writer who is so attuned to praises of her ability and her upbringing made her think she was an adult enough for situations that she think she knows but stupid enough not to be thorough in the first place.

Among other things, beside the occasional speaking lines, McEwan seems to have attention-deficit-inducing syndrome with his writing.

Yes, I know it was intended to reflect a thirteen year old point of view as a creative decision but at the end it provided a paradox where the author himself is writing a female version of himself into the book where the female version is writing about herself as the child and the young adult version of herself for most of the story. This confused me a lot at the beginning as it does at the end. Because I know how the story goes, so I wasn't as surprised by the resolution, instead, curiously, I found multitudes of plot holes in this.

Is that what literary fiction supposed to be? Hundred of pages of mindless writing with unimportant information wedge in an endless paragraph that begs for a heavy duty yellow highlighter?

Even the physicality of the book is deceiving. Because of the seemingly lack of consistent paragraphing and the tiny font would made one who have perfectly good reading sight to question its own ability to read. However, curiously if you increase the font to suit your reading comfort, you could only see unending lines and if you read closely, it doesn't even mean anything but redundant ramblings!

What made Atonement comfortable to be seen in the the form of a movie was the fact that Joe Wright was able to use the scene and fluently interpret it faithfully according to the novel. You don't really need to read a long paragraph when you could only see talented people doing everything non-verbally in several camera shots.

In fact, most of my favorite moment in the movie was the non-verbal parts which would be ridiculous that I would hate the book..... and yet I did.

I was trying to get into the mood of reading this book but I was intrinsically aware that I was almost halfway into the book and realize I was nowhere in the middle of the story where everything converge itself. I never seem to escape the bloated writings until Robbie's part of the story years after the first part of the book. Here is where I realized the limitation where McEwan has put himself into.

Maybe because he was able to be a man in the writing, he was able to translate himself well as Robbie than him as Briony. Robbie's voice only occurs several times in this book although briefly to allow more Briony into the storyline, but I found this is the only part that I identified where the book have soul in it. (However, it wouldn't be Atonement if the guy just wrote Robbie's story so...) Robbie's experience in war while reminiscing his stolen time with Cecilia and the letters was more pronounced in the book than the movie. Here as a man wrongly accused and was still suffering from the past which never seem to escape him, this was the part where the novel blossomed its core to the eyes.

But it didn't last.

Because this is also where Briony Tallis became Nurse Tallis. Curiously, the writing went from bloated to soulful to clinical in one go. Maybe because it was intended as that as a trainee nurse, but I seem to remember I was familiar with hospital setting and here I was faced by the most unsatisfactory realization where how some of these was also avoidable. Then I realized that at this point McEwan is really trying to make everything a tragedy without thinking how problematic his plot would become ; just by including Robbie's intention to be a doctor and both Cee and Briony as nurses.

The last time I checked, Robbie was a very well read student of both literature and basic medicine. He was already studying anatomy and psychology so wouldn't it be so suicidal to not consider reading up on basic pathology. In fact, he did want to go back to medical school after war and was consistently discussing with Cee about her life as a nurse and the subsequent cleverness in his military training that even several corporal was tagging along with him then wouldn't it be so idiotic and unconventional for an aspiring doctor to not take care of his injuries in the first place or not to realize something is wrong?

Maybe because it was Briony's take on Robbie's condition from the letters she received but it soon again we're overcome by another of those deary Briony narrating where she was cast into a tragic guilt-ridden character until the end of the third part of the book where we saw the resolution happening so suddenly. Perhaps as a way to satisfy the readers as the elder Briony maintained herself.

But.... when compared as a whole, the later part seems to be rushed and frankly never seem to look like it was done with the considerate 'care' like it was disjointed after the author's whole energy was spent perusing the first part under a microscope. Had the parts been consistent, it would have translated well in the novel.

And I don't even start on the whole character analysis from Cecilia, Emily, Paul Marshal, the twins and down to Lola incident. Like seriously, I could even start comparing how "Kasih Yang Suci" is really familiar with this book. I don't even have to go to the love scene. How is it one could make a love scene sounded sterile?

Frankly, the book is never about atoning anything. Its about Ian McEwan telling a short story and blew it up to make a redundant novel. Oh, of course, it was intended to be that way. Its literary fiction.

There are some part of the book which I like because of the movie but most of all, I'd rather stick to watching the movie instead of scanning a couple of pages of lines and trying to find the exact place where I like because Mr McEwan's intense dislike of paragraphing made my effort useless in non-ebook form. ( )
  aoibhealfae | Sep 23, 2013 |
This book is pretty much the literary equivalent of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE – the characters are repulsive and sympathetic by turns, and Murphy’s Law is in full effect. Basically, expect the worst to happen and you won’t be disappointed.

That said: ATONEMENT is very beautifully composed, but not as satisfying as I would’ve liked. I am particularly displeased with the epilogue, which solidified this review as a 4-star instead of the possible 5 – not, as the narrator implies, because it made for an unhappy and overrealistic ending, but because it jolted me out of the story entirely to be shoved from WWII preparations to a 1999 birthday party. I don’t see why the author couldn’t simply have conveyed the fluidity of Briony’s narrative verisimilitude without the fifty-plus-year jump, and much of my emotional response was lost to it.

Still, there is much in the book that will remain with me, and the final impression is that of an elaborate character drama well-told.

---

COMPARING THE FILM TO THE BOOK:

- they rushed through the first act, which I understand because it's very internal and that doesn't translate well to film;

- they deleted big chunks of Robbie's trek to rejoin the retreat -- like, BIG CHUNKS -- which was frustrating because these are the most visually vivid scenes, and that's stupid, but I guess because of time?

- they sped through Briony's nursing experience too, but that's okay because it was pretty dull;

- all the time-jumping-around made a lot more sense in the book; it wasn't clear in the film that certain scenes were being repeated through different people's POVs;

- they changed the epilogue format in the movie to be an interview, again because it was too internal in the books, and I get that, but it means that Briony's book "Atonement" was being published, whereas in the book it couldn't be until Lola and Paul Marshall died because of slander and all that jazz.

So, basically: it stuck pretty accurately to the overall arch of the story, but cut huge amounts out (par for the course in film adaptations). Not sure it would make much sense at all to people who hadn't read it. ( )
  NeitherNora | Sep 7, 2013 |
This is my second reading of this book having read it when it first came out. It was not one that stuck with me so when searching the bookshelf for something to read, I tried it again. This second time around, it had more of an impact.

The characters of Briony and Cecilia are well developed. The setting of pre-war England and England during the war comes alive. However, there are times that I just had to reread because I wasn't sure I really understood the sentence. Some sentences are really really long -- needlessly so, I think.

The plot is interesting; lives are drastically changed because of a young girls vivid imagination. However, life goes on. This is a good read, but not a fast one. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 17, 2013 |
For the first nearly 100 pages I simply couldn't see the point of this, or understand why - even before the film - it had become a modern classic. But then I was only reading the thing because for several years now it had felt like an embarrassing oversight not to have done. Not simply due to its appearance on most "best books of the last decade" lists, but, having usually owned a copy of at least one of McEwan's books since the week Enduring Love was released sixteen years ago, I'd always found it alarmingly easy to forget that I hadn't actually read a single novel of his.

Atonement's early chapters were positively Downton Abbey-ish. (I suspect that the later nursing scenes also inspired part of that series.) It was like a well-written version of supermarket fiction. Though the sort you'd find in Waitrose alongside Joanna Trollope. I daresay that it helped inspire quite a few of those books. And even its cover has become a generic type - one of whose recent incarnations can be seen on the British edition of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life.

Historical fiction set in the inter-war period seems especially superfluous; there were so many wonderful, still-readable novels written at the time which give a better flavour of the era than however many years of research could now. So its only significant value is if it says things that couldn't really be said in print at the time. Like Sarah Waters' Victorian books. And sexual politics and the unspeakable also eventually become one of the themes of Atonement; there is also a certain cynical irony to a story about a miscarriage of justice set during the "Golden Age of Crime".

I had seen a few reviews critical of this aspect of the book such as this one - which is probably more spoilery than mine - and did keep them in mind whilst reading. It probably won't surprise people who know me or who read a lot of my posts that I disagree, though I did honestly give careful consideration to the idea. (And I felt profoundly sad for Briony in the 40's carrying around remorse for such a terrible thing. I also don't blame her in the least, for, like most people in most situations, she probably wasn't able to do anything better at the time anyway. McEwan's exploration of her thought processes in 1935 is thorough enough that I'm convinced this is also what he means to say. It was odd that her thought processes of later realisation weren't explored though; this should have been one of the most interesting parts of the story but it wasn't there at all. I was disappointed and puzzled that writing became her later career, but then not everyone grew up with the public service ethic I did, which says her former work is better and more useful both in society and to help assuage guilt and wrong action, whilst art usually involves self-promotion.)

What I see in the plot is an indictment of a culture of prudery and silence that was hurting both men and women. It's perfectly obvious, if you know much of the story, how a man is adversely affected. But it was also unthinkable for Lola that she could have said what really happened in the afternoon. And if she had been able to do that, everything would likely have been different. Both Briony and crucially her mother, from whom she probably learned her views, equate passionate sexual expression in words with a person being a physical threat. The police and judicial system aren't exactly dismissive of the idea either. Class discrimination fuels the situation as well and it's certainly no accident that the narrative mentions Robbie's illicit purchase of the banned Lady Chatterley's Lover.

There aren't as many big ideas as I thought there might be in Atonement: it is, mostly, a story (one which draws heavily from L.P Hartley's The Go-Between as a starting point). The only other explored theme is writing and the study of literature. By default, I find this a tedious and slightly embarrassing theme in novels. "Aren't we bookish people so special and different?" they say. There are quite a few that manage to buck the trend of irritation (recently Possession and Scarlett Thomas' Our Tragic Universe). But Atonement is one in which I didn't like this typical outbreak of meta, apart from its clever and justified use in Robbie & Cecilia's letters.

What I enjoyed more than anything though, were bits which were mostly just story. Part 2, about Dunkirk, especially, was very interesting. I quite like war films and even took a military history module once, but for some reason I've always avoided fiction about fighting in wars; perhaps I should re-think that.
Most of Part 3, about nursing ... There's nothing quite like doing useful work that benefits other people to take you out of yourself and feel justified and purposeful. I miss it terribly. But reading a long account of someone else doing some is just as good for taking me out of myself, it turns out, and during those pages I quite forgot petty online debates which had riled me that day.

It did become perfectly apparent why the book is so popular, that it is well-written (even if the lyrical realism was too glaring and cold for my liking in Part 1) and it's a pretty good story with a few meta bits and things to debate. Some of it was still a bit dreary, obvious and unsatisfying, but I'm glad to have ticked this off at last.

ETA: I've recently read James Wood's essay on Atonement in The Good of the Novel and whilst I can't say it made me like Atonement any more, it did give me more appreciation of the work that went into it, e.g. that some of the plot points are a response to a 1935 essay by Cyril Connolly.

Read 30 June - 2 July 2013. ( )
  antonomasia | Aug 15, 2013 |

On a country estate in an English 1930s summer, young fantasist Briony, arrogant enough to believe she understands all there is to understand about her world, grossly misunderstands two incidents she witnesses between her much older sister Cecilia and the cleaner's son Robbie -- an argument over a trivium, then their bout of exploratory preprandial lovemaking in a corner of the library (how very British!). Briony persuades herself that Robbie was in the latter instance threatening Cecilia, and later that evening, when she catches a visiting, underage cousin in flagrante with an adult houseguest, insists the predator was not the houseguest but Robbie. Since the cousin goes along with the lie to protect her paramour, Robbie goes to jail.

That's the first and longest of the book's three parts; it fills almost exactly the book's first half. And it's drearily overwritten. The intervals between its sparse events come to seem interminable as we're treated to stodgy analyses of the various characters' thought processes; when we had a few pages of the sisters' migraine-suffering mother thinking about, well, her migraines, the book was within a smidgen of being hurled against the wall.

I'm glad I persevered, though, because the narrative style altered radically for the book's second segment, in which we follow Robbie and a couple of corporals as they participate in the tragic retreat to Dunkirk; McEwan brilliantly captures the living hell of the episode while both debunking and celebrating the vaunted heroism of the British tommies involved in the withdrawal. This section is grippingly written, and of great poignancy . . . and in the middle of it we discover something that casts an entire new light on the book's first part: Robbie recalls how Briony, at age 10, expressed an enduring love for him, a declaration that he considered at the time to be nothing but a piece of prepubescent self-dramatization. It's a clue that some of those minutely described motivations in the earlier pages may have been deceitfully amended.

Almost as absorbing is the third part, set a little after the Dunkirk fiasco, with Briony serving as a nurse in a London hospital, tending soldiers who've returned from the Front. She still has plans to become a writer, and indeed has finished a novella that, we infer, consists of a much-sanitized version of the events we read about in Part I, with Briony's own part in the story being of course much laundered. It's when she receives a long rejection letter for this piece from an editor whose comments could as well be about the self-deception as the literary exercise that Briony faces up to her responsibility and tries to make things right for Robbie and her sister by clearing Robbie's name and, courageously, facing the pair of them to make proper apology for the grief she has caused them. Again, McEwan brings the misery and horror of the wartime setting to life, and he does the same for Briony -- whose act of atonement, she finally explains, is not just to confess her protracted falsehood but to write and rewrite the events of that fatal evening on the estate until she has it right. And hence, we realize, the appalling windiness of the book's first section: what we read was Briony's second draft, when she was trying to be Virginia Woolf.

In the longish epilogue, set in 1999, we join an elderly Briony at the end of her long and distinguished career as a novelist, and there are further revelations about the true nature of the three texts we have read. We're told that novelists tend to generate -- need to generate -- their own versions of the truth, and that this must govern our acceptance or otherwise of what they tell us. This is actually the theme of my own novella The Lonely Hunter, although McEwan tackles it at far greater length and with far more elaboration; since the notion is so close to me, it's hardly surprising that I loved the latter half of Atonement, as this theme was slowly and almost languidly unfurled before the shock of the final revelations.

Even so, and despite the justification that we discover towards the book's end, I found it almost impossibly hard to forgive McEwan for Part I; there must surely have been a better way to prepare us for the novel's later stages.
( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
Superbly written book that keeps you wondering what will happen next or what really happened. But in the end how the different actors in "the play" experienced events and how this has been described is what really matters. ( )
  Johanna11 | Jul 15, 2013 |
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