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.
Ian McEwan's Booker Prize-nominated Atonement is his first novel since Amsterdam took home the prize in 1998. But while Amsterdam was a slim, sleek piece, Atonement is a more sturdy, more ambitious work, allowing McEwan more room to play, think, and experiment.
We meet 13-year-old Briony Tallis in the summer of 1935, as she attempts to stage a production of her new drama "The Trials of Arabella" to welcome home her older, idolized brother Leon. But she soon discovers that her cousins, the glamorous Lola and the twin boys Jackson and Pierrot, aren't up to the task, and directorial ambitions are abandoned as more interesting prospects of preoccupation come onto the scene. The charlady's son, Robbie Turner, appears to be forcing Briony's sister Cecilia to strip in the fountain and sends her obscene letters; Leon has brought home a dim chocolate magnate keen for a war to promote his new "Army Ammo" chocolate bar; and upstairs, Briony's migraine-stricken mother Emily keeps tabs on the house from her bed. Soon, secrets emerge that change the lives of everyone present....
The interwar, upper-middle-class setting of the book's long, masterfully sustained opening section might recall Virginia Woolf or Henry Green, but as we move forward--eventually to the turn of the 21st century--the novel's central concerns emerge, and McEwan's voice becomes clear, even personal. For at heart, Atonement is about the pleasures, pains, and dangers of writing, and perhaps even more, about the challenge of controlling what readers make of your writing. McEwan shouldn't have any doubts about readers of Atonement: this is a thoughtful, provocative, and at times moving book that will have readers applauding. --Alan Stewart, Amazon.co.uk
Fullmoonblue (USA: IN) (2007/11/23): Absolutely gorgeous. History and war story and love-story, all woven into a family epic sort of format. The prose is very carefully detailed, but not so complex as to turn a person off. I've taught this book in a course on 20th century lit and most beginning college students seem to be able to get into the plot and engage with the characters.
It would probably make a great gift to anyone who likes romance, war stories, the history channel, writing as an art form, England...
I'm also looking forward to when the film adaptation comes out this winter. I hope it'll do justice to the book... so lovely to read!
Amanda (United Kingdom) (2007/12/17): I read this book after watching the film (which I'm not sure was the right way to do it!). I did enjoy it as the book was more in-depth than the film, but at times I felt the author's style of writing a little heavy going. I did find the story terribly sad and I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't a true story. All in all I am glad that I read this book, but it was a book that I was happy to put down at times! 7 out of 10.
SouthernYankee (USA: TN) (2008/02/20): I was very disappointed. I had heard the movie was great, but I thought the book was boring and had to force myself to finish it. The end was a twist, however. It was just okay, certainly not one of the best I've ever read.
annie (Greece) (2009/12/07): This is a superb book, beautifully written, worth reading again and again. Much better than the film!
Marianne (Australia) (2011/02/04): For me, Ian McEwan’s book, Atonement, was mistitled. I think a better title would have been “How to profit from ruining others’ lives”. I was prepared to give this book a chance. A slow start, but good use of language, beautifully written, characters to love and hate and what seemed like a good story until the rather grim ending, which made a complete lie of the blurb on the back: “Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone”. If doing a bit of wartime nursing and then writing the story of your crime after all the people to whom it might matter have died, first changing the ending so that it will be more acceptable to the reader, then Briony’s definition of atonement is something different from the accepted one. “Atonement: amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong”. I felt cheated by the ending for the time I spent on this book. Guess I don't need to try any more by Ian McEwan!