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Atonement (2001)

by Ian McEwan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
23,064578101 (3.93)1 / 1141
On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.… (more)
  1. 110
    The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (rbtanger, browner56)
    rbtanger: I know that the Library Thing Recommendations aren't always completely spot-on, but I just want to say that if I were writing the recommend list, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood would be top of the list. These books have so many similarities that it's hard to count them all.… (more)
    browner56: Two superbly crafted explorations of the cathartic power that comes from the act of writing.
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    The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley (burneyfan)
  7. 30
    The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (joririchardson)
    joririchardson: Both books begin with a young girl witnessing a crime of sorts that will powerfully affect her own life and the lives of her family members. Both books also are set in England during World War II.
  8. 20
    The Outcast by Sadie Jones (JeaniusOak, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These character-driven literary novels set in 20th-century England offer haunting, reflective narratives of secrets, shame and guilt. In each, children make decisions or perform actions that have unintended, tragic consequences and lasting repercussions.… (more)
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    Accusation by Catherine Bush (ShelfMonkey)
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    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (kiwiflowa, Othemts)
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    The Lake House by Kate Morton (kethorn23)
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    Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Atonement, like Rules of Civility, paints a picture of events that instantly turn characters' worlds upside down. Also set in the 1930s, it highlights the lingering opulence of the age and how that can disappear amid tragedy.
  15. 00
    Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (librorumamans)
    librorumamans: Also a look at the consequences of a childhood crime. For me, though, Fifth Business is better crafted and a more complex examination.
  16. 44
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    What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge (MarieSeltenrych)
    MarieSeltenrych: A wonderful work of literary prose that I can still remember, over 50 years after reading it. It gives the reader a glimpse into a different world that inspired my imagination and even my life.
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(see all 25 recommendations)


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English (540)  Dutch (9)  Spanish (7)  German (5)  French (4)  Italian (4)  Catalan (2)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  Finnish (1)  Polish (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (576)
Showing 1-5 of 540 (next | show all)
It feels like the truth
that's all that matters to her
triumph over facts. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
Update. This book too, is all about meetings and partings, isn't it? And about how such small things, the briefest moments in time, meetings which scarcely begin before they end, can sustain love forever.


After several years, Cecilia and Robbie are reunited for half an hour. It is WWII, a London café. She is a nurse, he a soldier. Their separation is due to her sister deliberately accusing him of a rape she knows he did not commit. He’s been in gaol and soldiering is his ticket out. The night Cecilia’s sister perpetrates this act, was the night of the few moments in which they recognised their love for each other. They were also able to surreptitiously touch hands at dinner.

Robbie, anguished: If all we have rests on a few moments in a library three and a half years ago, then I’m not sure…I don’t know. [He is looking away as he says this.:]

Cecilia does know. She’s given him her whole life, given up everything she had, disowned her family, because she knows. She urges him: Look at me. [He does:] She entreats: Come back. Come back to me.

And that instant he does, never leaving her again. For the rest of their lives they belong to each other.

I hope this is in the book...I’ve just finished watched the film.
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
I like Ian McEwan's writing style but I was confused about the point of this book. The narrator didn't seem to really doing any real atoning... Was that the point? ( )
  nancyjean19 | Jun 3, 2020 |
Atonement is a really weird book in that its lame, dumb, bad beginning is actually essential to its smart, sharp, excellent ending.

The first third of the book was so ham-fisted and deliberate that even the most naive of readers would have to roll their eyes at it. Remember when obvious rapist Paul Marshall starts talking to his soon-to-be victim, and he starts telling her how to eat the candy he's feeding her, and he's saying, "Yeah, girl, you've gotta bite down on it. Bite down on it and chew on it and suck it off and slobber all over it oh yeah." (I'm paraphrasing) Make it a little more obvious next time, shit! And then this poor sap Robbie decides to write a really gross letter to the girl he has a crush on and then SET IT DOWN RIGHT NEXT TO THE ACTUAL LETTER HE WANTED TO SEND ARE YOU KIDDING ME it was like Young Frankenstein's 'Abby Normal Brain' level stupid. I was furious.

Then, of course, there's Briony Tallis, a really cool young girl who decides to be the Abigail Williams to Robbie's Tituba. I'm not even all that upset about the rape accusation thing. Yeah, it was bad, but it pales in comparison to the fact that she was that kid we all remember from adolescence who made everybody be in the plays they would write. Ooooooh, I've got a big imagination, so everybody else has to stop doing whatever they're doing and pay attention to me and learn my words and act the way I want you to. Pbbbbththththththth. You're 13 years old, way too old for this trash! Grow up!

In the end, though, what makes this all OK is that she actually wrote all the words we're reading. This is Briony's story. And while she says the only major factual changes she made to the story are related to its ending, it's worth considering that she was in total control of the tone of the novel and filling in the minor details that she wouldn't really be able to know.

This is just my take, but I think she wrote a lot of the first third of the novel in a way that would make her look worse. She wants to shoulder as much blame as she can for the whole incident, and what better way to do that than to make Paul Marshall a transparently creepy dude and make young Briony look like a complete dickhead? I guess it's an unprovable theory, but I can either say that Briony is a self-effacing writer or that Ian McEwan is a bad one, so I'll go with the former.

That doesn't mean that the book is flawless within that interpretation. McEwan's characterization of Lola in particular is abysmal. Basically, all of women in the Tallis family say that Lola's a bitch, and then she's brutally assaulted twice in the same day by a man who goes on to marry her. In her epilogue, her honest explanation of what happened, Briony still speaks about Lola in an incredibly unsympathetic manner, which I found really strange. It actually reminded me of the way things went in Jackie Collins' Poor Little Bitch Girl, and McEwan better feel like absolute shit about it because Poor Little Bitch Girl might be the worst book I've ever read.

McEwan had a very rough public moment recently, when he somehow forgot that science fiction existed. I bet my scathing three out of five star review on goodreads will be the nail in his literary coffin. ( )
  bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
Just could not get into the book. I enjoyed the movie very much. Rarely happens where I enjoy the movie more than the book. ( )
  Crystal423 | Mar 23, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 540 (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
First words
The play – for which Briony had designed posters, programs and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crepe paper – was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.
Novels and movies, being relentlessly modern, propel you forwards or backwards through time, through days, years or even generations. But to do its noticing and judging, poetry balances itself on the pinprick of the moment. Slowing down, stopping yourself completely, to read and understand a poem is like trying to acquire an old-fashioned skill like drystone walling or trout tickling.
How much growing up do you need to do?
It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you.
A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.
Find you, love you, marry you, and live without shame.
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Briony’s tale begins with her restless and excited preparations for a play she had proudly written for her visiting older brother. The young girl's childish anxieties induce a light and amusing atmosphere for the story’s first few scenes. But soon enough, a series of baffling events takes place before Briony’s eyes and sets of her wildly-imaginative mind to believe a new story of her own creation. Coerced by her own impetuous sense of duty, she soon commits a “crime” that forever changes the lives of people around her, as well as her own. This highly-praised novel from Ian McEwan is no more of a love story than it is a contemplative essay on the rapturous highs and atrocious lows of our frail human existence.
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