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Review: Atonement, by Ian McEwan

So many people have written a review of this book already that I think it would be a little redundant of me to do another plot summary (yawn). Suffice it to say that the plot really revolves around three characters: Briony Tallis, who’s thirteen in the summer of 1935, her sister Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the charlady’s son, who conducts an illicit romance with her. The novel is written in four parts, taking place in 1935, the Battle of Dunkirk during WWII, at a hospital in London, and then in 1999 when Briony turns 77.

I have to say that I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I’d heard that the book was slow to begin with, but for me that wasn’t the case at all. Rather, it was when the novel got to WWII where my interest began to flag a bit (I’m sorry, but endless descriptions of warfare are uninteresting to me). The novel is all about perspective: that of thirteen-year-old Briony as she truly doesn’t understand what was going on at the fountain that day; that of Robbie on the warfront; that of Briony, age 18 as a nurse and trying to make amends for what she has done; and that of 77-year old Briony at her birthday party. My favorite part of the novel is the first, because of the long, descriptive passages. The only thing I didn't really like about this book was the fact that, after the Battle of Dunkirk, Robbie and Cecelia and their relationship go missing. Otherwise, it’s a pretty amazing story, and McEwan is a pretty fantastic writer. Even though I really didn’t like Briony, I could more or less understand why she does what she does. It’s a book with a complicated plot and not much action—but don’t allow that to put you off from reading this truly admirable novel.

Note: intitially, I was having trouble writing a review of this book, so I decided to open the floor to questions. So here they are.

Literate Housewife asked: What made you decide to read this book? If you could ask one character any question, what would that be?

I read this book because, on Shelfari, I belong to a group of Anglophiles who choose a book to read every month and then discuss (A Far Cry From Kensington was our choice for July). I'd heard both good and bad things, so I wanted to form an opinion for myself. Your second question is tough! I guess I'd like to ask Briony why she repented of what she'd done, and why she choose that particular time. I felt as though McEwan never fully cleared that up for me.

Alea asked: I think of this book in three parts: 1.The beginning with the romance up until the horrifying event, 2. The War Zone 3. Atonement and the nurses. Which of the three parts did you enjoy most and why?

My favorite part of this book was the first; I more or less described why I liked it about it above.

Teddy Rose asked: Did you see the movie and if so, did you think it stuck with the integrety of the book?

I've never seen the movie, so unfortunately I can't comment. It's in my Netflix queue, though!

Nbbaker1102 (Book Escape) asked: My question: why do you think the author chose such an ending and did it leave you satisfied?

I more or less see Briony as a selfish person, so I think that the ending fits in with her personality. I was really thrown for a loop in the fourth part of the novel, but again, it solidified my thoughts about her. Altogether, I think I was satisfied with the ending.

Angie in Divide asked: How do you feel about Briony Tallis? Do you have any sympathy? Did your feelings about her change through the reading of the book and what was your final thought about her?

Personally, I couldn't stand Briony. But the more I read, the more I began to understand why she did what she did, and why she would have regrets about it later on. In some ways, I could sympathize with her; as a child, she's a person who lives in her own little world. As an adult, she's more in touch with the world, hence her guilt.

Veronica asked: After reading "Atonement," do you think you'll go on to read more by this author?

Amsterdam is on my TBR list, though I probably won't get around it for a while (too many other books on my nightstand, plus I'm curtailing my book buying for the near future, as I'm moving apartments in a couple of weeks).

Also reviewed by: Reading Adventures, Literary Feline, Caribousmom, Trish's Reading Nook, The Written Word, An Adventure in Reading, 1 More Chapter, Estella's Reviews, She Reads Books, Book Nut


Literary Feline said…
A friend of mine also felt the WWII portion of the novel weighed it down, so you definitely aren't alone in that.

I hope to read Saturday by Ian McEwan one of these days. I think he's a beautiful writer.
Anonymous said…
What a good post! I think you did the best thing. I'll have to give that a try the next time I just can't seem to put a book review together. Great questions from everyone. Great answers from you! :)
Very good review. I haven't read this one but I was kinda interested in seeing the movie.
Anonymous said…
I read Atonement for a class once and everyone came in to our discussion day saying how slow it had been (that first part) until they hit Part II. I had not had that experience at all. In fact, I loved Part I and the rest of the book kind of surfed on that initial reaction.
I've got Amsterdam and Saturday waiting for me, so we'll see which one I hit next.
Anonymous said…
The WWII part of the book was weighty too -- I just wanted them to get back together and felt like it was running too long. Otherwise, I loved this book and thought the ending was really unexpected.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)
Anonymous said…
Yeah yeah, slow reaction... found your post just now ;)

Atonement is one of my favourite books of all time! I did think the first part a bit slow, but in a good way - the long hot summerday kind of way ;)

My advice: do _not_ read Amsterdam as it is rubbish (wonder why he got the Man Booker Prize for that one :\) but any of his other books. I especially like Enduring love because of its grand beginning -- but you shouldn't read what's it about in advance because that spoils the experience!

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