Atonement [NOOK Book]

Overview

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.
On a hot summer day in 1935, 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 ...
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Atonement

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Overview

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.
On a hot summer day in 1935, 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.

Author Biography: Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of more than ten books, including the novels The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize, and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award, as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He has also written screenplays, plays, television scripts, a children’s book, and the libretto for an oratorio. He lives in London.

Winner of the 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award, Fiction
Shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
On an English country estate in the jittery, gilded era between the two great wars, two young people stand in the summer's heat, arguing by an ancient fountain. Cecilia is the daughter of the household, and Robbie is the cleaning woman's son, a brilliant boy whose Cambridge education has been benevolently financed by Cecilia's father. During their quarrel, the two manage to break a valuable porcelain vase, and in a fury largely engendered by her unacknowledged feelings for the young man, Cecilia strips off her clothes, leaps into the fountain and retrieves the fragments. It is a dazzling moment, full of beauty and ruin, lust and innocence, so highly charged that it's no wonder Cecilia's little sister, Briony, observing unseen from a window, feels a sense of menace. She concludes that Robbie has compelled her sister to do something shameful. This assumption, when combined with later events, brings disaster not simply to the two young people who are discovering themselves to be lovers, but to everyone else in the well-intentioned, prosperous family.

This is a crucial scene in the latest, luminous novel by Ian McEwan. As happens often with poetry, but much more rarely with novels, the book creates a curiously satisfying conflict of emotions. The pain and chaos of events are leavened by the delight of technical mastery. There is pleasure in having even our sorrows named with such precision. Sentences turn on a dime, or rather on an unexpected adjective, as when a litigious couple is described as "defending their good names with a most expensive ferocity."

Consider the description of the room of twelve-year-old Briony. In a slovenly household, it is an oasis of tidiness. Ona broad windowsill is set out a treasured model farm, consisting "of the usual animals, but all facing one way—towards their owner—as if about to break into song." The attentive air of this little army of animals perfectly catches the vanity of childhood, when it seems only proper and desirable to have universal attention focused on oneself.

The little barnyard world so neatly deployed is also emblematic of the slightly bigger world of the Tallis' estate, which has both the pleasing quality of a miniature and an innocent vanity, a smugness in the contentment so shortly to be swept away. McEwan is well aware of this, as when he describes the way Briony perceives that "writing stories not only involved secrecy, it also gave her all the pleasures of miniaturisation. A world could be made in five pages, and one that was more pleasing than a model farm."

What lies beyond that safe, well-controlled realm shows up in the novel's second half. Just as the first portion of the novel begins with the emblematic breaking of the vase, the second commences with a hallucinatory image of a child's smooth, severed leg caught in the branches of a tree. Robbie, enrolled as a private in the British Army, bears witness to such atrocities. In France during World War II, he participates in the hasty retreat that culminates with the evacuation at Dunkirk. Cecilia, a nurse in a veterans hospital in London, is coping with a parallel universe of brutality and absurdity, rigor and privation.

This latest work by McEwan is no less intricate than 1987's The Child in Time and 1998's Amsterdam, two of his previous eight novels that won the Whitbread Prize and the Booker Prize, respectively. In sensibility the world of Atonement is achingly reminiscent of that created by Richard Hughes in his classic novels, A High Wind in Jamaica and The Fox in the Attic. There is the same sharply detailed delight in life and the same dismaying awareness of how easily the treasures of normalcy can be lost. In both men's work, there is a grave acknowledgment that a child's moral sense and judgment are vastly different from an adult's—and that the consequences of this difference can be enormous. But Hughes, writing fifty years ago, made no sign that he, or his narrator, was aware of the reader's steady gaze. McEwan offers an additional challenge. He makes us ache for the young lovers to be reunited, and Briony—whom we discover is the narrator— seems to grant our wish. But does she?

The novel closes with an event postponed for sixty years. As in life, recurrence and familiar places give the narrator a sort of yardstick to gauge the changes in herself. Meanwhile, readers following a story over decades arrive at an apparent conclusion, then see the conclusion neatly undone, all the shining details exposed as invention, all replaced with circumstantial evidence. Clarity has bred not certainty but a sudden, rueful awareness of our own expectations, and of our nature as revealed in what we hope for.
—Penelope Mesic
Publishers Weekly
This haunting novel, which just failed to win the Booker this year, is at once McEwan at his most closely observed and psychologically penetrating, and his most sweeping and expansive. It is in effect two, or even three, books in one, all masterfully crafted. The first part ushers us into a domestic crisis that becomes a crime story centered around an event that changes the lives of half a dozen people in an upper-middle-class country home on a hot English summer's day in 1935. Young Briony Tallis, a hyperimaginative 13-year-old who sees her older sister, Cecilia, mysteriously involved with their neighbor Robbie Turner, a fellow Cambridge student subsidized by the Tallis family, points a finger at Robbie when her young cousin is assaulted in the grounds that night; on her testimony alone, Robbie is jailed. The second part of the book moves forward five years to focus on Robbie, now freed and part of the British Army that was cornered and eventually evacuated by a fleet of small boats at Dunkirk during the early days of WWII. This is an astonishingly imagined fresco that bares the full anguish of what Britain in later years came to see as a kind of victory. In the third part, Briony becomes a nurse amid wonderfully observed scenes of London as the nation mobilizes. No, she doesn't have Robbie as a patient, but she begins to come to terms with what she has done and offers to make amends to him and Cecilia, now together as lovers. In an ironic epilogue that is yet another coup de theatre, McEwan offers Briony as an elderly novelist today, revisiting her past in fact and fancy and contributing a moving windup to the sustained flight of a deeply novelistic imagination. With each book McEwan ranges wider, and his powers have never been more fully in evidence than here. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
This book is currently number one in the paperback bestseller list, so I'm sure most of you are familiar with it. The question is whether YAs would enjoy reading the book. The main character is 13 years old as the novel begins, in England, in 1935. She is an expressive child, who feels a lot but doesn't always understand the feelings, and is overwhelmed by them. Class differences are a major element of the theme and plot. Briony, the girl, tells a blatant lie, accusing a young man of rape. This results in his imprisonment and disgrace. It also destroys the happiness of Briony's older sister, who loves the accused man. The next section of the book takes place during the war. Briony is a young woman now, trying to atone for her sin, but no apologies are good enough. The horrors of the war and its carnage perhaps put her crime into some lesser category, but not for the accused man and his beloved, whose happiness has been needlessly destroyed by the careless child. The last section of the book is many years later, as Briony is a successful playwright, approaching old age, when again she is faced with the reality of how her lie affected others. There is a certain irony in the final pages. McEwan has won many prizes for this book. It was a Booker Prize finalist in the U.K. and has been selected as a best book of the year by most major publications in the U.S.: The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and others. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Anchor, 350p.,
— Claire Rosser
Library Journal
The major events of Booker Prize winner McEwan's new novel occur one day in the summer of 1935. Briony Tallis, a precocious 13-year-old with an overactive imagination, witnesses an incident between Cecilia, her older sister, and Robbie Turner, son of the Tallis family's charwoman. Already startled by the sexual overtones of what she has seen, she is completely shocked that evening when she surreptitiously reads a suggestive note Robbie has mistakenly sent Cecilia. It then becomes easy for her to believe that the shadowy figure who assaults her cousin Lola late that night is Robbie. Briony's testimony sends Robbie to prison and, through an early release, into the army on the eve of World War II. Gradually understanding what she has done, Briony seeks atonement first through a career in nursing and then through writing, with the novel itself framed as a literary confession it has taken her a lifetime to write. Moving deftly between styles, this is a compelling exploration of guilt and the struggle for forgiveness. Recommended for most public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/01.] Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Set during the seemingly idyllic summer of 1935 at the country estate of the Tallis family, the first section of this thought-provoking novel ambles through one scorchingly hot day that changes the lives of almost everyone present. The catalyst is overly imaginative 13-year-old Briony, who accuses Robbie, her sister's childhood friend and their housemaid's son, of raping her cousin Lola. The young man is sent to prison and Cecilia, heartbroken, abandons her family and becomes a nursing sister in London. In the second part, McEwan vividly describes another single day, this time Robbie's experiences during the ignominious British retreat to Dunkirk early in World War II. Finally, readers meet Briony again, now a nursing student. She is aware that she might have been wrong that day five years earlier and begins to seek atonement, having clearly ruined two lives. In a story within a story, McEwan brilliantly engages readers in a tour de force of what ifs and might have beens until they begin to wonder what actually happened. The story is compelling, the characters well drawn and engaging, and the outcome is almost always in doubt. The descriptions of the retreat and the subsequent hospitalization of the soldiers are grim and realistic. Readers are spared little, yet the journey is worth the observed pain and distress. Well-read teens will find much to think about in this novel.-Susan H. Woodcock, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
McEwan's latest, both powerful and equisite, considers the making of a writer, the dangers and rewards of imagination, and the juncture between innocence and awareness, all set against the late afternoon of an England soon to disappear.
From the Publisher
"McEwan's Atonement…truly dazzles, proving to be as much about the art and morality of writing as it is about the past…. The middle section of Atonement, the two vividly realized set pieces of Robbie's trek to the Channel and Briony's experiences with the wounded evacuees of Dunkirk, would alone have made an outstanding novel…. There is wonderful writing throughout as McEwan weaves his many themes — the accidents of contingency, the sins of absent fathers, class oppression — into his narrative, and in a magical love scene."
—Brian Bethune, Maclean’s

"…Atonement is a deliriously great read, but more than that it is a great book.… There are characters you follow with breathless anxiety; a plot worthy of a top-drawer suspense novelist, complete with jolting reversals; language that unspools seemingly effortlessly, yet leaves a minefield of still-to-be-detonated nouns and verbs…. rife with…unforgettable tableaux…."
The Globe and Mail

"What a joy it is to read a book that shocks one into remembering just how high one's literary standards should be.… a tour de force by one of England's best novelists…. Atonement is a spectacular book; as good a novel — and more satisfying…— than anything McEwan has written….sublimely written narrative…. The Dunkirk passage is a stupendous piece of writing, a set piece that could easily stand on its own.… "
—Noah Richler, National Post

"I can’t imagine many readers who won’t find it compelling from beginning to end…. McEwan has dealt with major themes before in his novels, but never at this length and with this narrative richness. With Atonement he has staked a convincing claim to be the finest of all that brilliantly talented crew of British novelists, including Margaret Drabble, Martin Amis and Graham Swift, who rose to prominence in the 1980s."
—Phillip Marchand, The Toronto Star

"Atonement has power and stature and is compulsively readable."
The Gazette (Montreal)

"It is difficult to imagine how the book might be bettered. Bold in its intentions and flawlessly executed, Atonement is one of the rare novels to strike a balance between 'old-fashioned' storytelling and a postmodern exploration of the process of literary creation. Atonement is a tremendous achievement, a rich demonstration of McEwan’s gifts as a storyteller."
The Vancouver Sun

"Ian McEwan’s writing is so vivid it can make your eyes ache. But you can’t look less closely or put the book down. Such is McEwan’s growing strength. Atonement is exacting and poetic in detail as well as generous with wry, often heart-rending insight. Each character is richly portrayed and fully realized, from their subtlest thoughts and motivations to their period dress and surroundings. Atonement sustains, rewards and surprises right up to its final page."
Victoria Times-Colonist

"With a clear prose style and a humming sense of tension throughout, Atonement is both illuminating and entertaining. McEwan believes in love and goodness, but he is far more interested in good’s contrary, whether it is evil or mere psychological weakness. There may be atonement for the past, but there is never redemption."
The Edmonton Journal

"Class conflict, war and the responsibilities of the artist are among the themes of Atonement, but it is Ian McEwan’s writing that makes this novel one of his best: lush and langorous in the long first section, understated and precise in the latter two."
The Ottawa Citizen

"…a classic McEwan performance, combining an intense forward narrative thrust with the sharpness of observation and description that has made him this country’s unrivalled literary giant."
The Independent (U.K.)

"Atonement [is] McEwan's best novel, so far, his masterpiece…. Atonement is...a meditation on the impulse of storytelling itself, on the wish to give shape to experience which deceives no less than it illuminates."
Evening Standard (U.K.)

"The close-up verdict will be simple enough: Atonement is a magnificent novel, shaped and paced with awesome confidence and eloquence; as searching an account of error, shame and reparation as any in modern fiction…. The bigger picture would have to set it within the long sweep of a literary canon. With a lordly self-consciousness, McEwan here blends his own climate into the weather-pattern of classic English fiction. Atonement is not a modest work; but then (to distort Churchill on Attlee), it has an awful lot to be immodest about."
The Independent (U.K.)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400075553
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/20/2003
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 22,397
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Ian McEwan is the author of two collections of stories and twelve previous novels, including Enduring Love, Amsterdam, for which he won the Booker Prize in 1998, Atonement and, most recently, Solar.

Biography

One of the most distinguished novelists of his generation, Ian McEwan was born in England and spent much of his childhood traveling with his father, an army officer stationed in the Far East, Germany, and North Africa. He graduated from Sussex University in 1970 with a degree in English Literature and received his MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

McEwan burst upon the literary scene in the mid-1970s with two short story collections that highlighted with equal clarity his early predilection for disturbing, somewhat shocking subject matter and his dazzling prose style. Similarly, his 1978 debut novel, The Cement Garden, attracted as much attention for its unsettling storyline as for its stylistic brilliance. But even though his early work was saturated with deviant sex, violence, and death (so much so that he earned the nickname "Ian MacAbre"), he was never dismissed as a mere purveyor of cheap thrills. In fact, two of his most provocative works (The Comfort of Strangers and Enduring Love) were shortlisted for major U.K. awards.

As he has matured, McEwan has moved away from disquieting themes like incest, sadism, and psychotic obsession to explore more introspective human dramas. In an interview with The New Republic he described his literary evolution in this way:

"One passes the usual milestones in life: You have children, you find that whether you like it or not, you have a huge investment in the human project somehow succeeding. You become maybe a little more tolerant as you get older. Pessimism begins to feel something like a badge that you perhaps do not wear so easily. There is something delicious and reckless about the pessimism of being 21. And when you get older you feel maybe a little more delicate and hope that things will flourish. You don't want to take a stick to it."
Among many literary honors, McEwan has been awarded the Somerset Maugham Award for First Love, Last Rites (1976) and the Whitbread Prize for The Child in Time (1987). Nominated three times for the Booker Prize, he finally won in 1998 for Amsterdam. He has also received the WH Smith Literary Award and National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award for Atonement (2001) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Saturday (2005).

Good To Know

While developing the Harry Perowne, the neurosurgeon in Saturday, McEwan actually spent a year observing a neurosurgeon at work, which included time spent in the operating theater.

Although he is known principally for his novels, McEwan has also brought his vision to the screen as writer of the films The Ploughman's Lunch (1983) and Soursweet (1988).

Hollywood loves McEwan. Film adaptions of his novels include The Cement Garden, The Comfort of Strangers, The Innocent, Enduring Love, and Atonement.

McEwan is no stranger to controversy. In 1999, his first wife kidnapped their 13-year-old son.The child was returned and McEwan awarded sole custody. His ex-wife was fined for "defamation" of McEwan's name.

In 2002, Ian McEwan discovered that he had a brother born from an affair between McEwan's parents that occurred before their marriage and given up for adoption during WWII. Since their relationship has come to light, McEwan and his brother have met frequently and forged a friendship.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Ian Russell McEwan
    2. Hometown:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 21, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Aldershot, England
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Sussex, 1970; M.A., University of East Anglia, 1971
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

The play, for which Briony had designed the posters, programmes 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. When the preparations were complete, she had nothing to do but contemplate her finished draft and wait for the appearance of her cousins from the distant north. There would be time for only one day of rehearsal before her brother arrived. At some moments chilling, at others desperately sad, the play told a tale of the heart whose message, conveyed in a rhyming prologue, was that love which did not build a foundation on good sense was doomed. The reckless passion of the heroine, Arabella, for a wicked foreign count is punished by ill fortune when she contracts cholera during an impetuous dash towards a seaside town with her intended. Deserted by him and nearly everybody else, bed-bound in a garret, she discovers in herself a sense of humour. Fortune presents her a second chance in the form of an impoverished doctor — in fact, a prince in disguise who has elected to work among the needy. Healed by him, Arabella chooses judiciously this time, and is rewarded by reconciliation with her family and a wedding with the medical prince on `a windy sunlit day in spring'.

Mrs Tallis read the seven pages of The Trials of Arabella in her bedroom, at her dressing table, with the author's arm around her shoulder the whole while. Briony studied her mother's face for every trace of shifting emotion, and Emily Tallis obliged with looks of alarm, snickers of glee and, at theend, grateful smiles and wise, affirming nods. She took her daughter in her arms, onto her lap — ah, that hot smooth little body she remembered from its infancy, and still not gone from her, not quite yet — and said that the play was 'stupendous', and agreed instantly, murmuring into the tight whorl of the girl's ear, that this word could be quoted on the poster which was to be on an easel in the entrance hall by the ticket booth.

Briony was hardly to know it then, but this was the project's highest point of fulfilment. Nothing came near it for satisfaction, all else was dreams and frustration. There were moments in the summer dusk after her light was out, burrowing in the delicious gloom of her canopy bed, when she made her heart thud with luminous, yearning fantasies, little playlets in themselves, every one of which featured Leon. In one, his big, good-natured face buckled in grief as Arabella sank in loneliness and despair. In another, there he was, cocktail in hand at some fashionable city watering hole, overheard boasting to a group of friends: Yes, my younger sister, Briony Tallis the writer, you must surely have heard of her. In a third he punched the air in exultation as the final curtain fell, although there was no curtain, there was no possibility of a curtain. Her play was not for her cousins, it was for her brother, to celebrate his return, provoke his admiration and guide him away from his careless succession of girlfriends, towards the right form of wife, the one who would persuade him to return to the countryside, the one who would sweetly request Briony's services as a bridesmaid.

She was one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world just so. Whereas her big sister's room was a stew of unclosed books, unfolded clothes, unmade bed, unemptied ashtrays, Briony's was a shrine to her controlling demon: the model farm spread across a deep window ledge consisted of the usual animals, but all facing one way — towards their owner — as if about to break into song, and even the farmyard hens were neatly corralled. In fact, Briony's was the only tidy upstairs room in the house. Her straight-backed dolls in their many-roomed mansion appeared to be under strict instructions not to touch the walls; the various thumb-sized figures to be found standing about her dressing table — cowboys, deep-sea divers, humanoid mice — suggested by their even ranks and spacing a citizen's army awaiting orders.

A taste for the miniature was one aspect of an orderly spirit. Another was a passion for secrets: in a prized varnished cabinet, a secret drawer was opened by pushing against the grain of a cleverly turned dovetail joint, and here she kept a diary locked by a clasp, and a notebook written in a code of her own invention. In a toy safe opened by six secret numbers she stored letters and postcards. An old tin petty cash box was hidden under a removable floorboard beneath her bed. In the box were treasures that dated back four years, to her ninth birthday when she began collecting: a mutant double acorn, fool's gold, a rain-making spell bought at a funfair, a squirrel's skull as light as a leaf.

But hidden drawers, lockable diaries and cryptographic systems could not conceal from Briony the simple truth: she had no secrets. Her wish for a harmonious, organised world denied her the reckless possibilities of wrongdoing. Mayhem and destruction were too chaotic for her tastes, and she did not have it in her to be cruel. Her effective status as an only child, as well as the relative isolation of the Tallis house, kept her, at least during the long summer holidays, from girlish intrigues with friends. Nothing in her life was sufficiently interesting or shameful to merit hiding; no one knew about the squirrel's skull beneath her bed, but no one wanted to know. None of this was particularly an affliction; or rather, it appeared so only in retrospect, once a solution had been found.

At the age of eleven she wrote her first story — a foolish affair, imitative of half a dozen folk tales and lacking, she realised later, that vital knowingness about the ways of the world which compels a reader's respect. But this first clumsy attempt showed her that the imagination itself was a source of secrets: once she had begun a story, no one could be told. Pretending in words was too tentative, too vulnerable, too embarrassing to let anyone know. Even writing out the she saids, the and thens, made her wince, and she felt foolish, appearing to know about the emotions of an imaginary being. Self-exposure was inevitable the moment she described a character's weakness; the reader was bound to speculate that she was describing herself. What other authority could she have? Only when a story was finished, all fates resolved and the whole matter sealed off at both ends so it resembled, at least in this one respect, every other finished story in the world, could she feel immune, and ready to punch holes in the margins, bind the chapters with pieces of string, paint or draw the cover, and take the finished work to show to her mother, or her father, when he was home.

Her efforts received encouragement. In fact, they were welcomed as the Tallises began to understand that the baby of the family possessed a strange mind and a facility with words. The long afternoons she spent browsing through dictionary and thesaurus made for constructions that were inept, but hauntingly so: the coins a villain concealed in his pocket were 'esoteric', a hoodlum caught stealing a car wept in 'shameless auto-exculpation', the heroine on her thoroughbred stallion made a 'cursory' journey through the night, the king's furrowed brow was the 'hieroglyph' of his displeasure. Briony was encouraged to read her stories aloud in the library and it surprised her parents and older sister to hear their quiet girl perform so boldly, making big gestures with her free arm, arching her eyebrows as she did the voices, and looking up from the page for seconds at a time as she read in order to gaze into one face after the other, unapologetically demanding her family's total attention as she cast her narrative spell.

Even without their attention and praise and obvious pleasure, Briony could not have been held back from her writing. In any case, she was discovering, as had many writers before her, that not all recognition is helpful. Cecilia's enthusiasm, for example, seemed a little overstated, tainted with condescension perhaps, and intrusive too; her big sister wanted each bound story catalogued and placed on the library shelves, between Rabindranath Tagore and Quintus Tertullian. If this was supposed to be a joke, Briony ignored it. She was on course now, and had found satisfaction on other levels; writing stories not only involved secrecy, it also gave her all the pleasures of miniaturisation. A world could be made in five pages, and one that was more pleasing than a model farm. The childhood of a spoiled prince could be framed within half a page, a moonlit dash through sleepy villages was one rhythmically emphatic sentence, falling in love could be achieved in a single word--a glance. The pages of a recently finished story seemed to vibrate in her hand with all the life they contained. Her passion for tidiness was also satisfied, for an unruly world could be made just so. A crisis in a heroine's life could be made to coincide with hailstones, gales and thunder, whereas nuptials were generally blessed with good light and soft breezes. A love of order also shaped the principles of justice, with death and marriage the main engines of housekeeping, the former being set aside exclusively for the morally dubious, the latter a reward withheld until the final page.

The play she had written for Leon's homecoming was her first excursion into drama, and she had found the transition quite effortless. It was a relief not to be writing out the she saids, or describing the weather or the onset of spring or her heroine's face — beauty, she had discovered, occupied a narrow band. Ugliness, on the other hand, had infinite variation. A universe reduced to what was said in it was tidiness indeed, almost to the point of nullity, and to compensate, every utterance was delivered at the extremity of some feeling or other, in the service of which the exclamation mark was indispensable. The Trials of Arabella may have been a melodrama, but its author had yet to hear the term. The piece was intended to inspire not laughter, but terror, relief and instruction, in that order, and the innocent intensity with which Briony set about the project — the posters, tickets, sales booth — made her particularly vulnerable to failure. She could easily have welcomed Leon with another of her stories, but it was the news that her cousins from the north were coming to stay that had prompted this leap into a new form.

That Lola, who was fifteen, and the nine-year-old twins, Jackson and Pierrot, were refugees from a bitter domestic civil war should have mattered more to Briony. She had heard her mother criticise the impulsive behaviour of her younger sister Hermione, and lament the situation of the three children, and denounce her meek, evasive brother-in-law Cecil who had fled to the safety of All Souls' College, Oxford. Briony had heard her parents and sister analyse the latest twists and outrages, charges and counter charges, and she knew the visit was an open-ended one, and might even extend into term time. She had heard it said that the house could easily absorb three children, and that the Quinceys could stay as long as they liked, provided the parents, if they ever visited simultaneously, kept their quarrels away from the Tallis household. Two rooms near Briony's had been dusted down, new curtains had been hung and furniture carried in from other rooms. Normally, she would have been involved in these preparations, but they happened to coincide with her two-day writing bout and the beginnings of the front-of-house construction. She vaguely knew that divorce was an affliction, but she did not regard it as a proper subject, and gave it no thought. It was a mundane unravelling that could not be reversed, and therefore offered no opportunities to the storyteller: it belonged in the realm of disorder. Marriage was the thing, or rather, a wedding was, with its formal neatness of virtue rewarded, the thrill of its pageantry and banqueting, and dizzy promise of lifelong union. A good wedding was an unacknowledged representation of the as yet unthinkable — sexual bliss. In the aisles of country churches and grand city cathedrals, witnessed by a whole society of approving family and friends, her heroines and heroes reached their innocent climaxes and needed to go no further.

If divorce had presented itself as the dastardly antithesis of all this, it could easily have been cast onto the other pan of the scales, along with betrayal, illness, thieving, assault and mendacity. Instead it showed an unglamorous face of dull complexity and incessant wrangling. Like re-armament and the Abyssinia Question and gardening, it was simply not a subject, and when, after a long Saturday morning wait, Briony heard at last the sound of wheels on the gravel below her bedroom window, and snatched up her pages and ran down the stairs, across the hallway and out into the blinding light of midday, it was not insensitivity so much as a highly focused artistic ambition that caused her to shout to the dazed young visitors huddled together by the trap with their luggage, 'I've got your parts, all written out. First performance tomorrow! Rehearsals start in five minutes!'

Immediately, her mother and sister were there to interpose a blander timetable. The visitors--all three were ginger-haired and freckled — were shown their rooms, their cases were carried up by Hardman's son Danny, there was orange juice in the kitchen, a tour of the house, a swim in the pool and lunch in the south garden, under the shade of the vines. All the while, Emily and Cecilia Tallis maintained a patter that surely robbed the guests of the ease it was supposed to confer. Briony knew that if she had travelled two hundred miles to a strange house, bright questions and jokey asides, and being told in a hundred different ways that she was free to choose, would have oppressed her. It was not generally realised that what children mostly wanted was to be left alone. However, the Quinceys worked hard at pretending to be amused or liberated, and this bode well for The Trials of Arabella: this trio clearly had the knack of being what they were not, even though they barely resembled the characters they were to play. Before lunch Briony slipped away to the empty rehearsal room — the nursery — and walked up and down on the painted floorboards, considering her casting options.

On the face of it, Arabella, whose hair was as dark as Briony's, was unlikely to be descended from freckled parents, or elope with a foreign freckled count, rent a garret room from a freckled innkeeper, lose her heart to a freckled prince and be married by a freckled vicar before a freckled congregation. But all this was to be so. Her cousins' colouring was too vivid — virtually fluorescent!— to be concealed. The best that could be said was that Arabella's lack of freckles was the sign — the hieroglyph, Briony might have written — of her distinction. Her purity of spirit would never be in doubt, though she moved through a blemished world. There was a further problem with the twins, who could not be told apart by a stranger. Was it right that the wicked count should so completely resemble the handsome prince, or that both should resemble Arabella's father and the vicar? What if Lola were cast as the prince? Jackson and Pierrot seemed typical eager little boys who would probably do as they were told. But would their sister play a man? She had green eyes and sharp bones in her face, and hollow cheeks, and there was something brittle in her reticence that suggested strong will and a temper easily lost. Merely floating the possibility of the role to Lola might provoke a crisis, and could Briony really hold hands with her before the altar, while Jackson intoned from the Book of Common Prayer?

Copyright 2001 by Ian McEwan
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Introduction

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
Booker Prize Finalist

The New York Times Book Review EDITORS’ CHOICE
and a Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

“A beautiful and majestic fictional panorama.” —John Updike, The New Yorker

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Ian McEwan’s international bestseller Atonement.
Read More Show Less

Foreword

1. What sort of social and cultural setting does the Tallis house create for the novel? What is the mood of the house, as described in Chapter 12? What emotions and impulses are being acted upon or repressed by its inhabitants? How does the careful attention to detail affect the pace of Part One, and what is the effect of the acceleration of plot events as it nears its end?

2. A passion for order, a lively imagination, and a desire for attention seem to be Briony’s strongest traits. In what ways is she still a child? Is her narcissism — her inability to see things from any point of view but her own — unusual in a thirteen-year-old? Why does the scene she witnesses at the fountain change her whole perspective on writing? What is the significance of the passage in which she realizes she needs to work from the idea that “other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value” [p. 38]? Do her actions bear this out?

3. What kind of a person is Emily Tallis? Why does McEwan decide not to have Jack Tallis make an appearance in the story? Who, if anyone, is the moral authority in this family? What is the parents’ relationship to Robbie Turner, and why does Emily pursue his conviction with such single-mindedness?

4. What happens between Robbie and Cecilia at the fountain? What symbolic role does Uncle Clem’s precious vase play in the novel? Is it significant that the vase is glued together by Cecilia, and broken finally during the war by Betty as she readies the house to accept evacuees?

5. Having read Robbie’s note to Cecilia, Briony thinks about itsimplications for her new idea of herself as a writer: “No more princesses! . . . With the letter, something elemental, brutal, perhaps even criminal had been introduced, some principle of darkness, and even in her excitement over the possibilities, she did not doubt that her sister was in some way threatened and would need her help” [pp. 106–7]. Why is Robbie’s uncensored letter so offensive within the social context in which it is read? Why is Cecilia not offended by it?

6. The scene in the library is one of the most provocative and moving descriptions of sex in recent fiction. How does the fact that it is narrated from Robbie’s point of view affect how the reader feels about what happens to him shortly afterwards? Is it understandable that Briony, looking on, perceives this act of love as an act of violence?

7. Why does Briony stick to her story with such unwavering commitment? Does she act entirely in error in a situation she is not old enough to understand, or does she act, in part, on an impulse of malice, revenge, or self-importance? At what point does she develop the empathy to realize what she has done to Cecilia and Robbie?

8. How does Leon, with his life of “agreeable nullity” [p. 103], compare with Robbie in terms of honor, intelligence, and ambition? What are the qualities that make Robbie such an effective romantic hero? What are the ironies inherent in the comparative situations of the three young men present — Leon, Paul Marshall, and Robbie?

9. Lola has a critical role in the story’s plot. What are her motivations? Why does she tell Briony that her brothers caused the marks on her wrists and arms [see pp. 109–13]? Why does she allow Briony to take over her story when she is attacked later in the evening [see pp. 153–60]? Why does Briony decide not to confront Lola and Paul Marshall at their wedding five years later?

10. The novel’s epigraph is taken from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, in which a naïve young woman, caught up in fantasies from the Gothic fiction she loves to read, imagines that her host in an English country house is a villain. In Austen’s novel Catherine Norland’s mistakes are comical and have no serious outcome, while in Atonement, Briony’s fantasies have tragic effects upon those around her. What is McEwan implying about the power of the imagination, and its potential for harm when unleashed into the social world? Is he suggesting, by extension, that Hitler’s pathological imagination was a driving force behind World War II?

11. In McEwan’s earlier novel Black Dogs, one of the main characters comes to a realization about World War II. He thinks about “the recently concluded war not as a historical, geopolitical fact but as a multiplicity, a near-infinity of private sorrows, as a boundless grief minutely subdivided without diminishment among individuals who covered the continent like dust, like spores whose separate identities would remain unknown, and whose totality showed more sadness than anyone could ever begin to comprehend” [Black Dogs, p. 140]. Does McEwan intend his readers to experience the war similarly in Atonement? What aspects of Atonement make it so powerful as a war novel? What details heighten the emotional impact in the scenes of the Dunkirk retreat and Briony’s experience at the military hospital?

12. When Robbie, Mace, and Nettle reach the beach at Dunkirk, they intervene in an attack on an RAF man who has become a scapegoat for the soldiers’ sense of betrayal and rage. As in many of his previous novels, McEwan is interested in aggressive human impulses that spin out of control. How does this act of group violence relate to the moral problems that war creates for soldiers, and the events Robbie feels guilty about as he falls asleep at Bray Dunes?

13. About changing the fates of Robbie and Cecilia in her final version of the book, Briony says, “Who would want to believe that the young lovers never met again, never fulfilled their love? Who would want to believe that, except in the service of the bleakest realism?” [p. 350] McEwan’s Atonement has two endings — one in which the fantasy of love is fulfilled, and one in which that fantasy is stripped away. What is the emotional effect of this double ending? Is Briony right in thinking that “it isn’t weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness, a stand against oblivion and despair, to let my lovers live and to unite them at the end” [p. 351]?

14. Why does McEwan return to the novel’s opening with the long-delayed performance of The Trials of Arabella, Briony’s youthful contribution to the optimistic genre of Shakespearean comedy? What sort of closure is this in the context of Briony’s career? What is the significance of the fact that Briony is suffering from vascular dementia, which will result in the loss of her memory, and the loss of her identity?

15. In her letters to Robbie, Cecilia quotes from W. H. Auden’s 1939 poem, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” which includes the line, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” In part, the novel explores the question of whether the writing of fiction is not much more than the construction of elaborate entertainments — an indulgence in imaginative play — or whether fiction can bear witness to life and to history, telling its own serious truths. Is Briony’s novel effective, in her own conscience, as an act of atonement? Does the completed novel compel the reader to forgive her?

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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Ian McEwan

Barnes & Noble.com: Have you noticed a large difference between British and American audiences in the reception of your books?

Ian McEwan: Not really. I mean, I suppose I'm far better known here [in England] than in the States, and [my books are] studied at school here, and have been for many years. Kids doing their high school reading exams often end up writing about The Child in Time and, more recently, Enduring Love, and I think, apparently, Atonement is going to be absorbed into the school curriculum as well. [In England], I meet people who had to read me at school 12 years ago and have then remained faithful ever since. But my readership in the States, as I experience it through giving readings in bookshops -- it always surprises me that the people I'm reading to have been reading me for so long. But not because they were made to at school. And they actually know my stuff in ways that I find incredibly flattering. But it's not a mass audience. It's a sort of educated, book-loving...bookstore-haunting kind of readership.

BN.com: Your last book was Amsterdam, and that was very different in style. Could you compare the experiences of writing these books?

IM: I was a little cautious after Amsterdam because I had read in so many places that anyone who wins the Booker Prize never goes on to write a decent novel. So, there was a bit of "Watch me, you bastards..." about this. I was very careful. Amsterdam itself was much more like a holiday written straight after the intensity of finishing Enduring Love, and it was really kind of a jeu d'esprit. It was a novel that I sketched out on the back of an envelope around about the time I was halfway through Enduring Love, and it's the only time I've only started a novel with one just finished behind me. Usually I have to let some life go by, I have to live through my own changes, become slightly a different person.

This was very much the case with finishing Amsterdam and starting Atonement. I spent a year just writing little sketches, going for long walks, sitting with my feet up on the radiator staring out the window, writing random pretend-openings of books I knew I'd never continue. Turning down loads of writing commissions, and yet actually not producing anything, and feeling vaguely guilty for it -- just waiting. After about 15 months, I found I'd written a couple of paragraphs which I knew had taken me into the novel I was going to write. And it was just this girl stepping into the room with a bunch of wildflowers. The room has a certain kind of elegance, there's a young man outside she wants to see -- but doesn't want to see -- and there is a vase that she is looking for on a low table by a french window. And I don't know why, really, and I certainly didn't know why at the time, but I thought, This is a toehold for me. This is the beginning of whatever it is I'm going to write.

BN.com: From this first idea, how did Atonement evolve?

IM: Well, I'd had a number of separate ambitions and thoughts about possible novels. Graham Greene has a rather good phrase for things that you carry around in your mind. He used to call them "pools" -- like a swimming pool, or like a spring. And the work of starting or even continuing a novel was like digging trenches between these pools. The pools were, in his terms, sort of the inspired scenes. Well, I'm not sure that I'd call mine so much as "inspired"; they were just sort of vague ambitions. One of them was to write a love story. I had this thought as to whether it was possible, at the end of the 20th century, for the literary novel to explore the subject of love in quite the way it was automatically a subject in the 19th century. I mean, have we wrapped ourselves in so much irony and self-reference that we can no longer simply tell a love story?

I'd also, for many years, been very drawn to the underlying idea of Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey in which a young woman's reading of gothic novels causes her to misunderstand everything around her. And I've often thought that I would rather like someone with imagination to cause some sort of havoc.

I suppose, too -- people often say to me, well, you've written about children so much in your fiction. And I would say, have I really? There's a disappeared child in A Child in Time, and there are some grotesques in my short stories, and The Cement Garden is many, many years ago. I thought I'd never really seriously immersed myself properly in trying to make a fully rounded character out of a child, allowing myself all the resources of a complex adult vocabulary to describe a child's feelings. Which is what James does in What Maisie Knew. But having all those sort of vague ambitions -- I didn't even know that those various thoughts belonged in the same novel. I mean, I didn't know it until I finished, really.

BN.com: What are you reading now?

IM: Well, I read Embers, that Hungarian novel, by Marai, which I really loved. I'm rereading, because my son is doing it for his exams, The Lord of the Flies. I'm reading a book about scientific equations, which makes a case that their power is in their beauty, not only in their predictive qualities. It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science. I'm reading some poetry, I'm about to reread Henry IV, Part One again, just to be able to engage my son, who is a somewhat reluctant reader and has got to do some exams on these subjects.

BN.com: You said you usually take some time to become a slightly different person between novels. Looking through your earlier books, this personal evolution is evident -- you're definitely not an author who repeats himself. Where do you find yourself now?

IM: Well, I mean, I'm back in that stage, now. I'm not writing. I've written a couple of lectures, one on Edmund Wilson, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. You sort of have to pretend each novel is your first. And there is always an element of rebirth about it. You can't go back, you can't do the same thing again. It often takes a while -- and I know many novelists say this -- for the echoes to die away of the thing you started. Often you find in the early months other ideas come, and you realize they're just other unwritten chapters to the book you've just finished, really.

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Reading Group Guide

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
Booker Prize Finalist

The New York Times Book Review EDITORS’ CHOICE
and a Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

“A beautiful and majestic fictional panorama.” —John Updike, The New Yorker

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Ian McEwan’s international bestseller Atonement.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 457 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(221)

4 Star

(107)

3 Star

(60)

2 Star

(38)

1 Star

(31)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 457 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    WOW!

    How descriptive in it's simplicity. I like the detail in which the author describes how Briony was mesmerized with the simple movement of her finger and how hot it was in the era before air conditioning. I found it easy to detest Briony and at the same time understand the quote "youth excuses a great deal." Overall a great read. I highly recommend this one.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2008

    Haunting

    At first I didn't know what to think because the first part of the book is very detailed and not fast paced. I almost gave up, but I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie. I'm glad I stayed with it, because as I read further I couldn't put the book down. As you read, you will think you understand why the author titled the book 'Atonement,' but not until the final chapter will you comprehend its true significance. The story haunted me for days afterward. One of the best books I've ever read.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 7, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Simply Beautiful

    Sadly I have not read any other books to compare this book to, but Atonement surely is a great book to read for someone starting Ian McEwan's novels. His writing style is exquisite. McEwan's writing manages to describe the story while moving the story along. So far I found it to be the best book that intertwines the troubles of war and the troubles at home with the main characters. His choice of switching point of views is very well done, although a bit confusing in the beginning the book. Nevertheless, this is definetely a good buy for your personal library.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2008

    Beginning of book was too boring

    I tried and tried to get interested in this book but just couldn't force myself to read the boring beginning. In my opinion, an excellant book grabs your attention from the very beginning not the opposite.

    8 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2008

    Couldn't Finish the Book...

    I had to stop in the middle. It was so borring, I couldn't go on. Just for curiosity, I watched the movie, which was just as borring. At least in the movie I could clearly follow the story, but the book was so slow with endless detail, it was so hard to follow.

    8 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Boring and Entirely Way Too Long.

    Atonement was such a disappointment for me. Normally I love literature, especially historical literature but this was just too much. Too much detailing, too slow in the storyline, too many words all together. It was like McEwan was trying to see how long he could make this book. If it had been half as long I would have enjoyed it so much more. After reading the novel I saw the movie and I don't know which was worse.

    7 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Not what I expected

    Definitely not what I thought it was. I have respect for what McEwan was doing, but this book just wasn't for me. It was basically a psychological study of the characters, not having much to do with the plot or central story much of the time. I would have liked it better if he did this study while furthering the central story. I felt like he was leaving out a lot in the characters, too. Something was missing for me, they didn't feel whole. But, I do applaud his general writing style and the basic story which was quite touching.

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Atonement

    Although, McEwan writes beautifully, with many details, I found this book difficult to pick up. It was a good story, but I felt bored in some sections throughout the book.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Atonement

    I usually make a point of not seeing a movie before I get a chance to read the book, but the opposite is true for my experience with McEwan's Atonement. I rented the movie last summer from Netflix and as soon as the movie ended, I stared at the blank screen for a moment, blinked a couple of times in wonderment, and then hit play and watched it in its entirety a second time. Needless to say, I was completely entranced with the storyline and the cinematography. All of this is to say that after having such a wonderful experience with the movie adaptation, I began to worry that I'd ruined the possibility of having a good reading experience with the novel. I find it difficult to read a book after I've seen the movie since I have so many preconceived notions of the characters' appearance and eccentricities locked into my head visually.

    Never fear. I loved the book just as much as the movie. I actually listened to this book, mostly while driving, and I'm quite lucky I didn't wind up in a ditch somewhere due to my complete inattention to my surroundings. I became so wrapped up in the characters, the story, and the heart wrenching consequences of one thirteen-year-old's misinterpretation of a number of events and a rash decision. This was my first foray into Ian McEwan's writing and it definitely won't be the last. I was mesmerized with his writing style. The characters, especially that of the young Briony, were so well-drawn. She is so frustratingly self-absorbed and narcissistic in the beginning of the novel, and her imaginative whims that so many young girls possess lead to such a catastrophic turn of events. I'll say no more. You must read it for yourself.

    I don't often reread books anymore due to the sheer quantity of amazing novels out there that I must get my hands on, but I can definitely say this is a book I will revisit, perhaps a few times, in the future.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2008

    Long winded

    Not my favorite, some passages were just too long and irrevelant, like the second section. The only charcter I liked with Birony becuase she managed to be more of a dramatic and developing character, unlike CC and Robbie. Things were confusing too. Also...it took abou 100 pages to explain a night's tale. It wasn't because there was a lot of action, but McGown really went into depth behind the motives. Although I did not enjoy the book, I really appreciated it after I watched the movie...which I do not recemmend until you have finished this book.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2008

    Too wordy and boring

    I really looked forward to reading this book but decided I was in for a long read when nothing seemed to be happening the first 200 pages. This book, while well written as far as imagery, was too long in getting to the point. And it was confusing. There was so little dialogue and toooooo much description, I became easily bored with it. And I felt like the atonement never came except in the ramblings of an old woman. Disappointing book.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2008

    Painful

    This book was so bad I could not finish it. By chapter 8, I was so angry for wasting my time & money that if it weren't because I borrowed the book, I would request a refund. There was seldom a dialogue. The book was basically describing indept someone or something. Endless paragraphs of useless information. Briony was an unlikeable character. I felt like 'SHOOT ME' so I can be put out of my misery with this garbage. Skip the book - see the movie - it cheaper...

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2008

    Probably a better movie

    I read the book before the movie so that I could get the big picture. However, I think I may have wasted my time. While I thought that the description was often very well done and the imagery was beautiful, I felt the storyline was very slow. I would not recommend this to anyone. Go see the movie...I guess it was up for some awards!

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2008

    I would pass on this one.

    There were many well written parts. Unfortunately the story dragged on in many areas. Briony's character was annoying. The ending was very sad and disappointing. I was sorry I read it. The foul language was offensive and unnecessary to the story.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2008

    Disappointed

    I was extremely disappointed while reading this novel. I can't even count the number of pages I skipped because they were filled with useless details. There was too much fluff and not enough actual story. After I was finished with the book, I couldn't believe the story had ended. There was really NO ending to this story. Briony was an unlikable character and it was almost painful reading all of her ignorant thoughts. The story read as though McEwan was desperately trying to reach a deadline. All in all, this book was terrible. Stick with Nicholas Sparks if you absolutely must have a love story.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    thoughtful ending

    The majority of the book I felt was painful to read. However the book ends with a strong lesson. The insight and growth you can learn from the character in the last few chapters is so strong that it reedems the overall boringness I felt for the first 2/3rds of the book.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2007

    Can't imagine what people like in this...

    I've read and re-read Atonement searching for its value, but I find none. Yes, the second 'third' is a finely wrought description of the emotionally charged retreat to Dunkirk, though hardly original. But what else? The writing is so overblown as to seem as if the entire book is the work of an overly self-impressed thirteen-year-old spoiled English girl. The plot 'twist' in part three seems bizarre, since it can only exist as a twist if you have read part two really badly, or really lazily. And if you are engaged in part two, the whole third segment makes no sense whatsoever. I suspect that this becomes a favorite of certain literary types who actually imagine that real life has some connection to this antique romantic novel form.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2003

    The Coming of Age

    Masterful and lyrical. An epic novel of love and responsibility, it traces the coming of age of a people. The characters are rivetting, and real. The storytelling is subtle and poignant. The kind that echoes in your head, long after.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2002

    Intriguing character studies & elegant writing

    This is the first Ian McEwan book I've read. I found the aforementioned Briony incredibly detestable, yet McEwan presents the inner workings of her childish mind so elegantly that you find yourself understanding her despite your feelings. Other characters are equally well revealed. But the true brilliance of Atonement is the ending, when all the pieces come together and the framework of the story becomes clear. Well worth a read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013

    Moving

    Sad but extremely moving. I know it stayed with me for quite some time after reading it. Give it a chance... especially if you like historical fiction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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