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Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement (2001)

by Ian McEwan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
21,22855166 (3.93)1 / 1079
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English (516)  Dutch (8)  Spanish (7)  German (5)  French (3)  Italian (3)  Catalan (2)  Danish (1)  Swedish (1)  Finnish (1)  Polish (1)  Portuguese (1)  All (549)
Showing 1-5 of 516 (next | show all)
This novel draws out two opposite responses.

The first half of the book tells the story of one of the most unlikable characters in all literature: Briony Tallis. Listening to her whine and muse is enough to make this reader give up. And yet then there are some stunning moments when Cecilia jumps in the fountain in front of a mesmerised Robbie. These moments were so human, so lovely, so real and almost make up for the intense dislike the reader feels toward Briony.

The second half of the book tells the story of the fates of two characters from the first half, Robbie and Briony. (Other characters fates are described but these are not the focus.) The accounts of Dunkirk and the descriptions of life in a London hospital during WW2 were incredibly moving. These were my favourite parts of the book.

To these two contrasts (1. Briony vs Cecelia & Robbie, and 2. First vs Second half of the book) is added a third. The book is a story of atonement—the desire to make peace and restitution after wrongdoing. The need for atonement haunts the story, and Briony desperately pursues if all her life but never finds it. There is no forgiveness from Cee, and Briony herself struggles to see how that could at all be possible anyway. Despite being the younger sister, she functions like the older brother in Jesus parable of the lost sons. She is proud and cannot understand grace. She lives her life under self imposed puritanical standards and expects others to as well. When there are perceived breaches she is ruthless. But her approach fails her. When she comprehends her own sin and folly she never gets over it, cannot see a way through it. It devastates her. She tries to self atone—through serving people by nursing the sick and injured and beaten and bloodied, and by writing a story in which she seeks to set things right (even though in her life she was never able). ON the last page McEwan reveals his hand that in a world without God we are gods. And as gods we cannot atone. I found this aspect of the book interesting but unfinished and unresolved. The book ends as a tragedy, with Briony knowing atonement isn't possible and looking forward to the dimentia which she has just been diagnosed with as a means to forget. If only Briony knew the one who made peace through his blood. If only she were able to know his cleansing, his renewal, his forgiveness and his love. Then perhaps she would be less judgemental, foolish and blinded by self absorption. Then there would be hope for all of us. In the end, Atonement asks if atonement is possible, and answers in the negative. What a wasted opportunity to heal billions who desperately need atonement and are as restless as Briony for it. ( )
  toby.neal | Sep 25, 2017 |
BLARGH. Boring AND problematic. An unfortunate combination, really.

I didn't think much of Atonement when I first finished it. Most of it bored me, and I found the writing style to be incredibly convoluted and dense. To make matters worse, large portions of this novel felt completely inconsequential to me. Part 2 could be summarized as "Robbie goes to war. War is bad," and part 3 as "Briony does her job." Why we needed 100 pages of agonizing descriptions for each section is beyond me. The only part I even remotely enjoyed was part 1, and that was only because THINGS HAPPENED, things that were of actual consequence to the plot. (But that's not really saying much because the inciting incident of this novel was so ridiculously stupid I couldn't fathom how the characters could screw up so colossally.) So, to recap: part 1=okay, part 2=BORING, part 3=Mostly BORING. And then we get to the concluding section titled "London 1999" -- and what a horribly infuriating section it was. The cherry on top of the boring, meandering cake that was this book. Was the ending of this book A) Cheap, B) Gimmicky, or C) Manipulative? If you answered all of the above then DING DING DING WE HAVE A WINNER! This is what not to do when you want to end a story. I did not endure 371 pages of a glacially slow story for it to end like that. It felt like a violation of the reader's trust, and I certainly did not appreciate being thrown in for a loop like that.

Onto the problematic aspects of this book. First of all, and this is something many reviewers have pointed out, the story largely ignores Lola's rape. Atonement's biggest problem is that it gets so caught up in the injustice that Robbie's faced with that it completely disregards the main injustice of this whole conflict: someone got raped.

Some pertinent points:
#1: Don't get me wrong, Briony infuriated the hell out of me when she was so adamant on laying the blame on Robbie, but I also think that what she did kind of made sense. She got that creepy note from Robbie (it really was FREAKING CREEPY-- why couldn't he just keep that tidbit to himself ugh), thought he was attacking her sister, and then concluded that he raped Lola. Her conclusions were certainly faulty, but given the circumstances (creepy obscene letter, assault, rape), I think she was justified in being so distressed.

#2: Briony eventually realizes that she'd falsely accused Robbie, and Cecilia knows that Robbie isn't the one who raped Lola, and yet both of them sit on that information for YEARS without doing a single thing to help. Briony freaking knows it was Paul Marshall but she does jackshit about it, and then when she's told that Lola is about to get married to her rapist she's all like woops ma bad sucks for her I guess.

#3: Yes it's awful that Robbie went to jail for something he didn't do, but ALSO A 15-YEAR-OLD GIRL GOT RAPED SHOULDN'T WE MAYBE DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT???? OR AT LEAST THINK ABOUT IT AT ALL???

And don't even get me started on how much I disliked Briony. So selfish. So entitled.

Though I may make it seem as if I passionately LOATHED this book, I didn't. It was mostly just boring, and then once I thought about it some more, problematic. To say that I passionately hated this book would mean that it made me feel something, which it didn't. Which is I guess the crux of the matter when it comes to Atonement: it didn't elicit anything in me, and so it wasn't particularly memorable. ( )
  fatmashahin | Sep 23, 2017 |
This is a reminder that you should never assume. Because of Briony's assumption, two lovers are set apart. ( )
  siok | Sep 18, 2017 |
I was very torn between whether this was a 9 or a 10 but as it brought a tear to my eye and gave me the book tingles (technical term for the feeling you get upon finishing a book and wanting to start reading it again immediately), I decided to overlook the fact that it is a little overly verbose in places and plump for a 10!

I saw the film version at the cinema when it was first released so there were no major plot surprises here for me, it tells the story of a young aspiring writer and the events of one particularly hot day where she witnesses something she doesn't understand and the far reaching consequences of this. Told very cleverly using stories within stories it is a slow burn and build up to a conclusion I'm sure some people wouldn't enjoy but that I found perfect.

The ultimate tale of the power of the human imagination used to both its best and its worst. ( )
  LiteraryReadaholic | Sep 5, 2017 |
bello, dicono le stelline. Bello certo, dico io, ma anche un po' futile. Ottimo 'esercizio' di letteratura applicata.

( )
  icaro. | Aug 31, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 516 (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 (40 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ian McEwanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Basso, SusannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boyd, CaroleNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tanner, JillReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verhoef, RienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JaimeTranslatorsecondary 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
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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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Wikipedia in English (1)

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:21 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

In 1935 England, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses an event involving her sister Cecilia and her childhood friend Robbie Turner, and she becomes the victim of her own imagination, which leads her on a lifelong search for truth and absolution.

» see all 13 descriptions

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