Since studying Ian McEwan at University he has quickly become one on my favourite authors of all time and reading this book has made me love him (and also hate him) even more. This story is heartbreaking, and I truly mean heartbreaking as it had me experience different emotions from joy to sadness and frustration. Once again, McEwan has created a beautiful novel that explores the themes of love, war, guilt and forgiveness through its brilliant narrative and prose.
On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.
As always, McEwan excels at setting the scene. His description of a hot summer afternoon in a 1935 English country house is lush and sumptuous, his evocation of a young soldier’s struggle to reach home after the disastrous 1940 battle of Dunkirk is haunting, and his look into the horrors of a war-time London hospital is gruesome in all its detail. Amazingly, McEwan manages to find beauty even in the most horrific scenes, which is one of the things which set him apart as a writer.
As usual, though, it’s the psychological stuff that is really outstanding. McEwan has a knack for taking his readers deep into his characters’ minds, letting them share their most intimate, most uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Sometimes these thoughts are a little disturbing (those of you who have read his earlier works will know what I mean), but usually, they have the effect of completely drawing the reader into the story. The latter is definitely the case in Atonement.
By presenting the story from different perspectives and vantage points, McEwan provides the reader with a complete and engrossing view of a life-changing event and its aftermath. All the different perspectives ring true, and together they tell a marvellous tale of perception, loyalty, anger, secrets, lost love, shame, guilt, obsession with the past. And about writing, for more than anything else, Atonement is about the difference between fiction and reality, the power of the imagination and the human urge to write and rewrite history.
The ending broke my heart. So much so that I’m still having trouble coming to grips with everything. Although being a McEwan novel I wasn’t expecting a happy ending but something happy would have been nice instead it left me in tears and struggling with all my emotions. However, it’s ending makes it more realistic as well as making the storyline and the fate of its characters so much more powerful and emotive.
I think it’s easy to guess for my review that I give this book 5/5 stars and it is one of those books that has found a spot on my all-time favourites list. Even if you don’t want to read the book then I recommend that you watch the film as Joe Wright successfully and beautifully adapts this tale for the big screen and the casting in my eyes is impeccable.