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

by Ian McEwan

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19,20848384 (3.93)1 / 898
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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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. ( )
  pwaites | Nov 28, 2014 |
Book Club book from State Library, January 2011
  deirdrebrown | Nov 6, 2014 |
loved this book, really want to see the movie now ,Briony and her sister Cecilia and about the live in housekeepers son Robbie , who has to go to prison because of Briony's deception,then to fight the war and how she becomes a nurse in the war and returns to seek forgiveness from her Sister and from Robbie . ( )
  Suzannie1 | Oct 26, 2014 |
I was captivated by McEwan's prose and characters from the start. I'm a little surprised to see some negative reviews here, but it seems this book generates strong feelings. This book explores the themes of love, memory, guilt, and of course, atonement. No spoilers here, just praise for McEwan's lovely writing. The movie is a pretty faithful interpretation of the book, but of course, the book is always better and this one is no exception. ( )
  LaineyMac | Oct 19, 2014 |
SPOILERS THROUGHOUT.

This is probably the worst book I have ever read.

I've read some fairly bad books - I've read Twilight - but this was something else. This was awful. Everything about it, from beginning to end, was just very, very, inexcusably bad.

Let's take the first part - the part where all the action happens. Sort of. Except for the fact that nothing happens for seven chapters, aside from McEwan's (OR IS IT?) endless descriptions of every minute detail of everything in the house or adjacent to the house or that once rubbed shoulders with something twice-removed from the house. His prose is horrible, cloying, droning, and ultimately, boring. I love wordy books, I love the scenery that words can construct. This didn't work for me. Also, was it hot day? Did he ever mention it was a hot day? I THINK HE MIGHT JUST HAVE.

Then, there's the characters. God how I hate every single one of them. They're either directly, obviously hateful (Lola, Briony, Paul Marshall and his rapist's moustache (WHY DIDN'T ANYONE SEE IT COMING?), Emily) or they're just stupid (Cecelia and Robbie, mainly). Each and every single one of them is a cliche, and by the point it came to the big, terrible, awful thing which was to happen to them, I had simply ceased to care. Okay, so we know Robbie's not a rapist. Big deal. The whole thing feels horribly contrived taken at face value - taken in the context of what is learned later in the book, I didn't find any greater meaning behind this.

The pacing is all off, too. I think the idea was to create suspense. This did not happen. By about Chapter Ten I was seriously considering chucking the whole thing, but I pressed on.

Part Two is, if possible, worse than Part One. Here is where Ian McEwan regurgitates everything he ever possibly knew about WWII. Firstly, it's all over the place, jumping from time period to time period in a completely unclear manner. Secondly, again, it's boring. Part Three is just cringeworthy. BRIONY BECOMES A NURSE MAYBE THIS MAKES HER A GOOD PERSON GUYS. I just don't see what we're supposed to care about, here... so I'm just going to skip to the end.

So, what WAS the point? Briony? Briony who turns out in the last part to have been narrating the whole thing? Is this in fact part of her journey? What flaming journey? She's gone from being a terrible author with issues telling the difference between fantasy and reality to... what? She's still a terrible author! She's still got horrible issues! Who the hell cares by this point? McEwan's grasp of characterisation is tenuous at best. The characters, as seen through the eyes of Briony, are one-note caricatures. It doesn't matter if this is, in fact, the point - it doesn't make it a good device. I can get a picture of them as people, the problem is that they're not interesting people and they're certainly impossible to care about. I read this directly after reading Herzog, and perhaps, given the richness of the characterisation in that, I am being too harsh on this book. Can't all be astronauts! However, the idea that somehow it's excusable that the writing in this book is so bad because it's being seen through the eyes of this unreliable, thirteen-year old narrator, is ridiculous. If that is supposed to be the point, it was very badly executed. Surely if the point is supposed to be that Briony has grown up an accepted what she's done, then she would be able to see the whole situation more clearly, and write a better book? And if she hasn't, then, as I said before, she hasn't really gone on a journey in the book, and all anyone learns from the book is that there are horrible, twisted people in the world - HEY GUYS, I THINK WE GOT THAT MEMO.

This has turned into a ramble. I do HAVE coherent thoughts on this book, but every time I start typing I get lost in a sea of completely anger that this utter inanity ever, ever became successful. It's very, very rare that I dislike a book this much. I can usually find positives to say about almost anything. I can't with this - it had no redeeming features at all.

Oh no, wait, it had one. "I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR SAVING MY LIFE. I WILL BE ETERNALLY GRATEFUL TO YOU."

AHAHAHAHA.

Ian McEwan clearly owes Toy Story a debt (btw, those films? WAY BETTER WRITING.) ( )
1 vote humblewomble | Oct 19, 2014 |
When I first tried to listen to this book a few years ago, I quickly got bored and gave up. A kids' play, an incident in a fountain, a broken vase – who cares? Perhaps it was just my reading mood at the time.

Fortunately, I decided to give it another try, and I am so glad I did.

Yes, it does take a little while to get off the ground. But that background leads to a fabulous story, a not very mysterious mystery (but then, mystery wasn't the point), a brutal look at war, and most of all, human foibles.

The ending – someone wrapping up the story years later – is fabulous.

Having finished this and the author's The Children Act, I am an unabashed fan.

If you are in an impatient mood as I was the first time I gave this book a try, show a little more patience than I did. I was not disappointed, and my hope is that other impatient readers will not be, either. ( )
  TooBusyReading | Sep 20, 2014 |
Atonement is my favorite Ian McEwan novel. It is set in England in the 1930s. The novel is about childhood, love, and war. It is beautifully written and has very interesting characters. Some parts of the book will always stay in your mind forever because they are so memorable and heartbreaking. ( )
  limebooks | Sep 16, 2014 |
I don't generally read books about the war - or at least this was the case when I first read this book - but I really enjoyed it. It's quite heartbreaking. McEwan was able to make me care for the young couple so much that I kept rooting for them even when it seemed hopeless. I would recommend this (and a box of tissues). ( )
  CaitlinAC | Aug 10, 2014 |
Mi encanto por este libro es tan grande que no tengo palabras suficientes para describirlo. Una verdadera historia de la tragedia de un amor épico en medio de la guerra. El mejor final, en un libro, de todos los tiempos. ( )
  Glire | Jul 7, 2014 |
I own a copy and read a bookcrossing copy.
Truly fantastic. I've read some books I haven't been crazy about lately, or have just plain confused me, and this was such a nice change. I loved it, the characters all so real and human and sometimes so thoroughly unlikeable. Brilliant writting, the shifting perspective of events and then not really knowing what was real by the time it was all over. Was the reality that Cee and Robbie are together or both dead? I'm still wondering. Just wonderful.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
When you reread this book knowing what you’re going to find out at the end, you see how much McEwan paves the way for the revelation. Even the young Briony wondering if everyone is as alive as she is has a hint of the insubstantial nature of the characters at the end.

Regardless of whether you like the way this is a post-modern novel or whatever, it has all the hallmarks of the best of McEwan’s writing – he really does have a way with words! When I was rereading it, I really enjoyed phrase after phrase. Poor Jackson, amusingly described as ‘Arabella’s disapproving father’, ‘had wet his bed’ and made to wash the sheets himself in the laundry trough, ‘the sheets as heavy as a dead dog and a general sense of calamity numbing his will’. Here McEwan marries humour with a sensitivity to the boy’s unhappiness as his parents split up. Clearly the author is having a lot of fun in this part. The trouble is that, retrospectively, we’re meant to see this as coming from the pen of a contrite Briony – is this flippancy the right note? Perhaps with more of an eye on the future McEwan has Briony think, when mystified by the breaking vase incident, ‘how easy it was to get everything wrong, completely wrong’ and ‘it wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding’.

Of course this book exists on different levels – it has the conventional plot and then it has McEwan using the young Briony to reflect on what it is an author does so even at this early stage in the novel we’re aware that we’re really getting two voices. ‘In a story you only had to wish, you only had to write it down and you could have the world’. Then there’s Robbie’s thoughts about the value of literature, putting it into place and recognising what it has to offer although I’m not sure McEwan wants us to fall in line with Robbie’s conclusions – they seem a bit too much the over-confidence views of a 23 year old. The point of his thoughts is, I think, to keep going this overt discussion of what to expect from a novel. And continue it does with little references to its art form peppering the text. When out looking for the twins, Briony’s mind turns towards what writing is: ‘a kind of soaring, an achievable form of flight, of fancy, of the imagination’ – more preparation for what was to come. Even more overt are Briony’s thoughts when she has become a nurse: ‘The very concept of character was founded on errors that modern psychology had exposed. Plots too were like rusted machinery whose wheels would no longer turn . . . It was thought, perception, sensations that interested her . . .’ Here again I think McEwan wants this to be as much about exposing an over-sure Briony as about the modern novel. Since he himself has just produced a traditional, plot and character section with Robert retreating to Dunkirk, he clearly believes there is some place for this unless retrospectively you think McEwan wants us to see this as all fake, in style because it is all fiction within fiction. But the ‘thought, perception’ bit does seem highly redolent of what is to come. Then pages later we have Briony thinking ‘the only conceivable solution would be for the past never to have happened’, words that seem innocent enough at the time but then lead to how the book was supposedly written by Briony.

Of course the novel becomes more and more complex. The reader is left wondering where they stand when Briony gets the rejection letter along with all the advice from CC , the potential publisher – and we realise first of all that, despite being in the third person, this is a personal narrative that Briony is making about herself. We realise that she has taken some of CC’s advice, adding more of a plot, reducing some parts and altering other – and that she’s included a war bit anyway. So far, so good, but it’s also the first time we realise that this is Briony fictionalising her past and then we realise that the writer must be still some distance into the future as she’s still got more of the story to unfold. And so at the end we come the way a novelist can’t find atonement, being the god who creates all the characters. What difference does it make in the end about what really happened and what didn’t, she asks – and so the reader is left with quite a number of issues to consider. ( )
  evening | Jun 27, 2014 |
I will give this story credit for teaching me something about myself: it showed me that I do not appreciate eloquent prose if there is not a compelling story wrapped within it. On the surface, "Atonement" has the makings of a compelling story, but it buries its narrative ideas within layer upon layer of relentless plumbing of character psyches, all for the sake of a gimmick to lay out a psychology of writing. It takes far too long to get to the actual story in the first part of the book, and far too little time is spent on the main event's aftermath. There are some poignant scenes in the second part, particularly regarding the wartime nurse's perspective, but if that is the kind of thing you want to read, there are better and more rewarding books about war. Briony's character reveals about two/thirds of the way through the novel that all of the criticisms that were forming in my mind as I read through were probably intentional on McEwan's part; that does not make them any less irritating to me. If all the accolades plastered on the covers and front pages of this book mean that story really matters less than form, then I owe an apology to all the adult fanatics of YA literature I've criticised over the years, and I'd better hang up my hopes of ever becoming a novelist. ( )
  quaintlittlehead | Jun 26, 2014 |
Well written, good read, read it in 2 days. Will not spoil the story for others by telling the story. Give it a try. ( )
  JanicsEblen | Jun 10, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Pretty little literary liar


This is the first book of the month that I read back when I was still a newbie at our book group. I am not sure if I would have read this soon otherwise. It was April then, a hot month in our country, and, like the opening chapter of the novel, the first event takes place on a hot day.

Briony Tallis, the central character, is fussing around with her play. Oh yes, she is an attention-hungry child with a knack for literature. She is directing a play, entitled The Trials of Arabella, she wrote for her brother. She wants to have it performed on that night in celebration of her brother’s arrival. Before that night, instead of getting something done, the cast, composed of her newly arrived cousins, get bored and would rather go for a dip at the pool. One of them even has the nerve of taking over Briony’s task as the director.

Frustrated, Briony goes out of the house, whipping nettles with a stick, until she meets Robbie Turner, the son of the Tallis’s housekeeper. He hands her a note for Cecilia, Briony’s older sister. She grabs the note, sealed in an envelope. She is intrigued. She opens it. She reads it.

And, so to speak, the rest is history.

The problem these fifty-nine years has been this: how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.

The novel is divided into three parts. The first part is composed of the events of that day, from the rehearsal of The Trials of Arabella up to the next day, that time when the sun shyly stretches his fingers upon the dreaming earth, which is also the time Robbie leaves the Tallis house, for reasons I will not say. But I’ll say this much: Robbie leaves in disgrace because of that little lie that Briony slipped through her malicious teeth.

The second part is about the war. We read about Robbie, serving his country during the war and walking toward the coast to catch a ship that would take him home. We read about Cecilia, a nurse who is waiting for Robbie to come home. And we read about Briony, also a nurse, asking for Robbie and Cecilia’s forgiveness for the terrible tale that nearly destroyed the blossoming love of her sister and her childhood crush.

The last part is the epilogue, where we read about a much, much older Briony, keeping up with her ailing health and boasting an armada of books she has penned after her time as a war nurse. This, perhaps, is the culminating point of the story, where the big bomb is dropped. Of course, I won’t drop that here, although I am usually inclined to do so, but I am feeling a little stingy now.

One of my bookish friends spoiled the ending for me, deliberately or not, I cannot say, and you can just imagine the vexation that I nursed for this friend. But really, this spoiler made me love the novel more. Weird, huh? Every time Cecilia writes, “Robbie, come back. Come back to me,” my chest constricts a barrel of tears. Call me a crybaby, but I don’t care.

This novel is largely about love, war, and what else? Oh, remorse. That shapeless guilt clinging fiercely on Briony’s shoulders for six decades is too much a burden to tow. It is enough to torment a person in a lifetime. It’s the consequence of her precocious imagination, rash judgment, and misunderstanding of adult motives. But could we blame her 13-year old thinking? Did she really intend to protect her sister, or was she just plain jealous?

The novel explores the wide and relatively unknown repercussions of the words that fall from our lips. The way we perceive things, the way we craft them in our heads, and the way we want to deliver them, whether our intentions came out of spite, out of unconscious jealousy, out of disgust, out of uncouthness, will affect someone, change something. Which is why words are too powerful. The learned person can concoct anything from these: a play, a letter, a love story, a crime.

And a lie. It is so easy to destroy something with one. It also takes one to make a beautiful novel, although one has to be as good as McEwan. This is my first McEwan novel, and I am definitely impressed.

And, cue violins, it takes a "cunt" to create a lie. Wink, wink. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
A beautiful, lyrical, disturbing book. A story about love and betrayal and catastrophic misunderstanding, the horror of war and the impossibility of atonement. Also a self referential story about writing fiction, indeed about writing the very story we are reading (see Briony's rejection letter from the publisher to whom she sends the first version of the very novel we are reading) - yet it is never arch or "clever". I love this book, both for the writing and for the story - which I hope is very much what the author intended. The film version led me to the book and reading the book has reminded me how good a writer Ian McEwan is. ( )
  Figgles | May 3, 2014 |
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. ( )
3 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 |
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