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Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan

Atonement: A Novel (original 2001; edition 2003)

by Ian McEwan

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
24,759603112 (3.93)1 / 1166
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)
Title:Atonement: A Novel
Authors:Ian McEwan
Info:Anchor (2003), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library

Work Information

Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)

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    browner56: Two superbly crafted explorations of the cathartic power that comes from the act of writing.
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    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.
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» See also 1166 mentions

English (562)  Dutch (9)  Spanish (7)  German (5)  French (4)  Italian (4)  Catalan (2)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  Finnish (1)  Polish (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (598)
Showing 1-5 of 562 (next | show all)
This was objectively an excellent novel but fair warning: if you watched the movie (even if you only watched it once when it came out, over a decade ago) reading the book is absolutely spoiled by already knowing the big reveal at the end. I thought after all this time it wouldn't matter, but it did! I'll look forward to reading an Ian McEwan book that I haven't seen in movie form as I like his characters and style very much. ( )
  k8_not_kate | Sep 20, 2022 |
"Atonement" focuses on tragic events surrounding the Tallis family during the years prior to, during and after the Second World War. Briony Tallis, a thirteen-year-old girl who has a dream of becoming a famous author, witnesses and misunderstands the sexual tension between her older sister Cecilia and the gardener Robbie Turner, with her mistake leading to years of remorse, hate, solitude – and atonement. One might think this is a concept too unpromising for a full-length story, lacking any further potential for an interesting reading experience which will stick in one’s memory. But whoever may bear such thoughts: the novel is even more than that. Don’t expect a hopeful, romantic or even funny story when entering the world Ian McEwan has built in his masterpiece. It is tragic, heart-breaking and full of dark moments. There is not too much hope in this story. „Atonement“ depicts what might very well have been reality. McEwan deals with flawed characters. Neither of them are perfect, all of them commit mistakes with grave consequences. Most of them are not even likeable. But you can’t say any person included in McEwans large cast of characters is depicted in an unrealistic way, and in my opinion, that’s what makes „Atonement“ a true masterpiece.

Two years ago, I had to read „The Innocent“, one of McEwan’s less-known novels, for school. It was not particularly well-written, felt really weird to me and a lot of others, did not deal subtly with its messages, and was generally no novel to be commemorated as a great work. I am still angry with my English teacher for introducing me to McEwan with such a book, considering his writing talents shine so much more through the narrative of „Atonement“. Say what you want about the plot or the character development, but the prose is beautiful. The book has been published only fourteen years ago, but it is one of those novels which will probably be considered to be true classics in fifty or one hundred years.

„Atonement“ is divided into three different sections. The first one deals with a hot afternoon in the summer of 1935 and the aftermath of a fatal entanglement, introducing the main characters, a stunning atmosphere and allowing the reader to become familiar with McEwan’s writing style. It was a little bit difficult to get into the story due to its slow beginning and the lengthy introduction, which is the main reason for why I deducted one half-star from my rating and finally rounded it down to 4 stars. But as soon as the first plot twist appeared, the story’s pace gathered speed, making up for a great conclusion to the first part. The second section then introduced us to a soldier’s experience during the Second World War, and while interesting and very well-written, this section – once again – may be considered to be a little long-winded. (I think those 100 pages might easily have been reduced to 60 or 70.) And then McEwan returned to his main protagonist during the course of the last section, narrating a tale about a nurse’s difficult life during War, and had he not already captured me with his prose, he would certainly have succeeded to do so with this final part. The epilogue was one of the best conclusions to a story I’ve ever read, staying true to the plot and the characters and completing the story in a way which is very close to being perfect.

If you enjoy reading novels with magnificent writing, profound plot elements which remain true to the characters, and perfect character development, then this is the book you should check out next.
( )
  Councillor3004 | Sep 1, 2022 |
“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.”
― Ian McEwan, Atonement

For some reason I loved this film but was unable to really love the book. I suggest if you want to read this you read it BEFORE seeing the movie.


There are not many differences between the versions and that was part of the issue for me. I already knew the whole story. This has happened to me before. Sometimes if I love a movie and see it before reading the book, I do not love the book as much.

Having said that I would recommend it for fans of Historical fiction . I also think it would be a sensational choice for book groups. I have been in a few over the years and none have ever chosen this book but I may suggest it as I think it is the type of book that is practically made for a book club.


Let's talk about the ending. Was anyone else as bitterly disappointed? I have not thumbed through the reviews yet but surely there have to be others who feel the same. The thing is..there was no real "atonement" at all. It was a let down and just one thing that makes for good discussion. ( )
  Thebeautifulsea | Aug 5, 2022 |
When Bryony - a fanciful girl who considers herself a writer - is thirteen, she witnesses a handful of small but to her traumatic vignettes all in one day that lead her, for various reasons, to wrongfully accuse someone of a shocking crime. This awful act has all sort of consequences for many members of her family, and we watch those consequences play out during the first years of WWII.

Welp, I *loved* this novel. I have strong feelings about all the characters, both positive and negative (I love that I love the ones I love and love to hate the ones I hate), and I thought the writing and the pacing of the story was perfect. It wasn't a happy story, but somehow it didn't put me in a funk, which typically happens with darker books. ( )
1 vote electrascaife | Jul 28, 2022 |
Excelente novela. Relato de iniciación de una niña a la edad adulta. La visión distorsionada que hace la adolescente del mundo de los adultos y los sentimientos que la embargan. La pérdida de la inocencia.

La fractura de un jarrón es la certera metáfora de la vida: la fragmentación, el desgarro, la recomposición siempre imperfecta dejando huella. La morosidad de la escritura, la recreación en los detalles permite detenernos en pequeños elementos escénicos creándonos la ilusión de unas situaciones en las que no sucede nada relevante. Y sin embargo, la fractura se produce. Y con ésta el crimen, así llamado en la novela, proyecta su sombra a lo largo de toda la obra. El sentimiento de culpa, el remordimiento, el ansia de un perdón imposible, la asunción de la responsabilidad de los propios actos y sus consecuencias se van desenredando página tras página como si de una madeja se tratará. La novela entera pretende ser una expiación, dando título a la obra, un auto-ajuste de cuentas . Una expiación imposible pues ésta no es más que la excusa para apaciguar nuestra conciencia siempre que aquella venga impuesta por un agente externo. La redención no existe pero “La tentativa lo era todo”, siendo ésta ¿suficiente? como aspiración soteriológica.

El intento de la voluntad de poder nietzscheana: un querer hacia atrás, hacia el pasado y tener la posibilidad de cambiarlo. “O, mejor dicho, he hecho una digresión tremenda para regresar al punto de partida”. ( )
  GilgameshUruk | Jul 17, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 562 (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 (43 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ian McEwanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bailey, JosephineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Basso, SusannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blair, IslaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boyd, CaroleNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Britto, Paulo HenriquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ekman, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lukács, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Messud, ClaireIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Metsch, FritzDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robben, BernhardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rooney, AnneContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tanner, JillNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Válková, MarieTranslatorsecondary 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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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.

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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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