Atonement: A Novel

by Ian McEwan

Paperback, 2003





Anchor Books (2003), Edition: 1st, 351 pages


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.

Media reviews

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.
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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.
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’.

User reviews

LibraryThing member elliepotten
Wow, what a book! Yet another novel that has stayed on my shelves for far too long, partially because I was so intimidated by it and partially because of all the hype surrounding it a few years ago. As it turns out, I needn't have worried on either of those counts. It wasn't a difficult read at all, and the hype was entirely justified!

At its barest of bones, this is a book about two lovers and the girl who tears them apart. Cecilia Tallis, a rich young woman, and Robbie Turner, her charlady's son, have both recently returned to the Tallis estate from Cambridge University, where they have been studiously avoiding one another. It is only during the hot summer following their return that they realise how deep their feelings really are.

Waiting for them back home is Cecilia's younger sister. I have to admit, I hated Briony in the first half of the book. She reminded me of a young version of Barbara in Notes on a Scandal. Manipulative, naive, attention-seeking, self-obsessed and utterly destructive in her unswerving self-righteousness. Briony wants to be a writer and a grown-up, not necessarily in that order, and her imagination tends to run away with her. When a collection of bizarre encounters and Briony's overactive mind are thrown together during one frightening night, Robbie is arrested for a crime he didn't commit, and the Tallis family falls apart.

Moving on a few years, Robbie is fighting his way across France in a desperate attempt to get back to Cecilia; the love of his life is pouring out her devotion in her letters, waiting for him to return, and Briony is seeking to redeem herself by following in Cecilia's footsteps and training as a nurse. From the innocence and family atmosphere of the first half of the book, suddenly the reader is plunged into Robbie's terrifying trek towards the beaches of Dunkirk, and from there into Briony's horrific experiences in the hospital as the first soldiers are brought back from the retreat. Will Cecilia and Robbie be reunited? And will Briony ever manage to atone for what she did and finally set things to rights?

I cannot believe how much I underestimated this book. McEwan's writing is simply sublime. He keeps the pace steady, picking out tiny details and observations, exploring personal motives and flights of fancy, revisiting memories, and immersing the reader completely inside his characters' heads - yet I never felt impatient for things to speed up. It would have been so easy for chaotic moments in France and in the hospital to be flitted over and churned together into a frenzy, but their impact would have been halved. There is no escape from the thoughts, the joys, the horrors, the beautiful and haunting things that McEwan wants us to see. With a single sentence he can rip the rug out from under the complacent reader, then with a beautiful description encourage us to regroup and reflect once more. As with so many books in which I become deeply attached to and emotionally invested in each and every character, I had a feeling I was going to be a bit tearful by the end, and I was right - I spent fifteen minutes sobbing into my pillow!

I could go on and on, but instead I'll stop here and just say... please read it. You will recognise yourself in parts, and recoil from others; you will be educated and shocked; you will feel elation and joy but also be plunged into sadness and anger. It is an epic and exquisite rollercoaster, and I am so glad I finally chose to stop procrastinating and experience it for myself!
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LibraryThing member xicanti
A young girl makes an accusation with far-reaching consequences.

I must say, I'm rather... underwhelmed. McEwan writes beautifully and displays a stunning command of language, but I felt that the storytelling here left much to be desired. This is a psychological novel, above all else, and he's set out to show us what a large impact our perceptions and choices can have on our lives and the lives of those around us. He does so by layering event after event, observation after observation. Tiny occurrences are given the same weight as life-shattering moments. In many cases, the very pointlessness of it all is, in and of itself, the point. I don't deny that this is clever, and that it gives McEwan a perfect area in which to toy with these pretty, pretty words of his, but I could never help hoping that something would happen, for god's sakes! Every time the story seemed to be on the cusp of something, the author backtracked and indulged in more of his (admittedly gorgeous) descriptions. It bothered me.

Things did improve somewhat after Part I. I found that McEwan's approach captured wartime events much better than upper-class country life. The book began to engage me, at long last. I really sank into it. I found myself trudging through France with Robbie, working in the hospital with Briony. I particularly enjoyed the rejection letter she received, which seemed to be a commentary on ATONEMENT itself. I started to think this might be a book worth keeping around for another reading.

Then the ending killed it for me.

I won't say more than that. I don't want to ruin it for the rest of you. I find, though, that endings are almost more important to me than everything that came before. The ending can cast the entire book, (or film, or television show, or whatever), in a whole new light. It can elevate certain prior events, downplay others, make the reader rethink everything that's come before. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes it... well, isn't.

I'm sure there are plenty of readers who found ATONEMENT's ending fantastic. I'm really, really not one of them.

But, despite my own issues, I do recommend this. If you enjoy beautiful language and elegant writing, you'll love this. I give it top marks on that front, and cannot justify giving it fewer than four stars overall.
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LibraryThing member Lman
What a vivid portrayal of life Atonement is – full of graphic imagery, elaborate landscapes and constant foreboding. And yet, most noticeable is what is not written: the considered gaps in the story, the designated vagueness of the plot, and the sublime subtleness of the words the author offers up alongside his deliberate omissions.

Superficially it is the story of Briony, who at the age of 13 and full of obsessive self-importance and childish misunderstanding, commits an act of such import that her whole life and the lives of her family are irrevocably altered. Set at the beginning of the second World War the aftermath of Briony’s ‘crime’ spirals the reader into the ignominy of the brutal reality of the war, almost as a consequence of her original misdeed.

The book is divided into distinct parts, with calculated voids between the occurrences, and with incredible descriptions of seemingly unconnected minutia of the characters’ lives. But it was in this trivia – in reality, what else are the true perceptions of life - where I felt the mastery of the authorship came to the fore; it was here that the reader was forced to question, imagine and consider the impact of the original actions, and the considerable reactions, against an horrific backdrop. And despite the gulf between the stories, perhaps even due to them, subtle insights are delicately placed into the reader’s mind allowing, only at the very end, an answer of sorts.

I have difficulty, still, in organising my thoughts about this book and I continue to be unsure of the entire significance of the title ‘atonement’ within the book. I became dismayed when the story jumped, often, to another time and place, and it was left to my imagination to complete; until the next portion offered a somewhat satisfactory conclusion. Somehow though, I think this is exactly what the author had in mind – for, in actuality, things are not what they seem; it may be impossible to truly make amends; and rarely is life neat.
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LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
This book is a marvel of presuppositions, fictions and perceptions. The first part is a beautiful prism-like construction of points of view, so carefully crafted that the rest of the story simply flows. The plot is very secondary - it is the make-up of the characters that is fascinating: described in glimpses and through various voices, they all come to stand on their own. The events, as they unfold, came as no surprise to me; if anything, when there were lies (or untruths), they came as jarring since they were not true to the basic personality of the characters. This, to me, is a testimony of the power of McEwan's writing: all the characters evolve according to their basic personality, despite their age and revelations.
A heart-wrenching tale which will haunt me for a long time.
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LibraryThing member BookshelfMonstrosity
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.
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LibraryThing member Carlie
The only thing I knew about this book before I began reading it was that it was a bestseller and it was made into a movie. I still haven’t read the book flap, and had I read it beforehand, I may not have given the book a chance. I generally do not enjoy reading stories about war, but the style of this book made it much more approachable for me. Rather than a full-out war novel, this book is actually a family drama that includes some member’s experiences of war.

The first section begins before World War II hit England and introduces the Tallis family. Each chapter follows a member of the family, giving intimate details of each one’s thoughts and feelings about their lives (the father is conspicuously absent other than in the minds of the family). Emily, the matriarch, has just taken in two nephews and a niece because her sister ran off to live in France with her beau. This part of the book ends horribly when the nephews run away and while looking for her brothers, the niece is raped by an unknown man. Emily’s youngest daughter, Briony, with clouded judgment, swears that the rapist was a family friend, Robbie.

The reader knows that Robbie was not the culprit, and we learn during his war journeys that he was convicted and sent to prison based on Briony’s false evidence. Briony realizes her tragic mistake and seeks forgiveness from Robbie and her sister, Cecelia.

This novel is Briony’s atonement for her sins. By setting up the novel in this way, McEwan is able to provide a glimpse into the writing process through Briony. As a reader, I was frustrated at first by the seemingly drawn-out and overly descriptive prose, but I came to appreciate the style for its depth and character analysis.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
This was my second reading of Atonement, this time venturing in along with the students in my Seminar in Historical Fiction. We also read quite a bit of critical material on the novel, and ultimately I enjoyed it much more than the first time around. (I changed my rating from three stars to 4.5, and, seeing as how I did not review the book then, I will do so now.)

Let me say first that I am a big fan of McEwan's work (although not so much the earlier novels that earned him the "Ian Macabre" moniker). It's not surprising that the very things that so many readers disliked are, for me, it's greatest strengths. If you are reading the novel solely as a linear story, you are likely to be irritated by the questions it poses about the process of writing, the "authority" of the author, the responsibilities of the writer to his or her subject and readers, and the readers' responsibilities. You'll probably hate the conclusion. And perhaps be annoyed by the "revisions" of the story as the third person narration moves shifts in time, place, and point of view--something I found particularly intriguing. McEwan plays with all kinds of additional lit crit-type things, including metafictional allusions to Jane Austen, Dante, Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, and more; and some heavy handed symbolism (the broken vase, the recurrence of threes).

The story itself--which is probably known well enough for me to skip a lengthy summary--is an intriguing one that eventually focuses on the issues of guilt, punishment, and atonement. It also examines the snobbery of the British class system (especially in the first section, set in 1935), the ugliness and inhumanity of war, the power of words and the imagination, and the painful coming of age of Briony Tallis, the central character. Written with a third person omniscient narrator, the novel is divided into four sections. The first is set in 1935 on the Tallis family's country estate. It's Briony's 13th birthday, and she plans to celebrate her brother's homecoming with a performance of the first play she has ever written, "The Trials of Arabella." But things go terribly wrong, disrupting Briony's penchant for order--for the world to be as she would have it be. Lola, Jackson, and Pierrot, cousins from the north who have arrived in the wake of their mother running off to France with a lover, are assigned parts in the play--but not necessarily the parts Briony intended, and their interpretations don't necessarily agree with her. In addition, the relationship between her sister Cecelia and Robbie Turner, the charwoman's son, which Briony imagined as a romance similar to that in her play, has taken a turn that confuses and surprises her. When a crime is committed, Briony's rigidly ordered and highly imagined world begins to fall apart.

I don't want to give away any more details that would spoil the reading experience, so let me say only that Part Two is told from Robbie's point of view as a soldier in France, heading towards the beach where the Dunkirk evacuation is about to occur; and Part Three relates Briony's wartime experiences as a nurse trainee. The last, and shortest, section jumps ahead to 1999 and is told, again, from Briony's point of view.

For me, Atonement is a rich novel that I know will take me deeper each time that I revisit it. I loved the metafictional elements, and I really enjoyed making a study of it this time rather than simply taking it on as pleasure reading. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member ANovelMenagerie
The Story

This is a tragic story of a love that was truly meant to be, but never fully grew to its full fruition because of the naitivity of a girl, bound by jealousy and fear. The lovers are Cecelia and Robbie and their fate is turned in the events that take place on one night. The girl who interrupted their love was Briony, Cecelia’s younger, imaginative sister who made more of what she saw and heard than she had a right to.

This is also the story of consequences and how the decisions you make influence not only your path, but those of others around you. Briony’s false accusations tear apart Cecilia & Robbie’s love. It takes a lifetime for Briony to make atonement for the wake of her lies.

The Review

I watched this movie in Big Bear over Thanksgiving week in 2008. The movie brought me to tears. It was a movie that I had purchased, however had just not gotten around to watching. In the dark of the night, I watched it alone and was struck by its force. It was a truly incredible movie. For those who may be familiar with my blog, I am a stickler about reading books before watching the movies based upon them. I want my mind to be a fresh and clean palate for the words of the book. In this particular case, it ended up that the movie induced me to purchase the book. Particularly, it was the commentary on the movie DVD that had indicated that this movie so closely followed the book that I thought the book must be wonderful.

Along with several others, I purchased the book. When I went to read it, I found that I was disturbed by the images in my head that were associated with the movie. It is hard reading a story that you already know the ending to. This further enforces my belief that I should always read a book before viewing the movie (thank God I read The Secret Life of Bees and haven’t watched the movie yet). In any case, I’ve started and stopped reading this novel several times. Why? Because it felt “wordy” to me and I already knew the story. I became disappointed in myself. I had made a determination to read this book, I invested in purchasing it in hardback, and damn it if I wasn’t going to read it!

I promised myself it would be read before April was over; as such, I have read the novel. I felt differently about the novel than the movie. I loved the movie and didn’t love the book. Why? Because when I read Briony’s thoughts and feelings, I felt nothing but contempt for her. I already knew that she had ruined Cecelia & Robbie’s hopes at love and life. She seemed almost oblivious to the ramifications of her childish whims. In addition, the book was so filled with description of scenery and events that I found myself rushing to finish the book. I didn’t want to envision what the book was saying because the movie had done that for me.

There were some differences between the movie and the book. The ending was quite different than the movie and I believe that the movie would have been better served had it chosen the identical ending to the book. I also felt a much deeper connection to Briony in her years as a nurse in the book versus how it was displayed in the movie. Overall, if I had to choose one or the other, I’d choose the movie. How sad is that? I love books! I love the poetry of words. But, I feel in some ways that my read and review were doomed because of my love for the movie.

On Sher’s “Out of Ten Scale:”

In regards to recommendations, I would DEFINITELY recommend the movie. The book… I believe is for the few who really love the art of writing and the art of words. Some of the passages were so well written that they were poetic in nature. This is a truly gifted author and his efforts are not wasted on this novel. If there is one thing that you can take away from this review, it is to read the book before you see this movie and not in the reverse order, as I did.

For the genre Fiction:Historical, I am going to rate this book an 8.5 OUT OF 10.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I loved McEwan's prose style, and there are scenes in this book I know are going to haunt me. Part I, written in omniscient, takes place on one Summer day in 1935 and covers different perspectives, the most crucial being that of thirteen year old Briony who commits the "crime" against Robbie and her sister Cecilia that requires atonement. A lot of that part, which takes up half of the book, dragged for me, although I was impressed with how well the author conveyed early adolescent angst.

Part II covers Dunkirk from Robbie's perspective. Part Three is from Briony's perspective as a nurse in wartime London. The scenes in those second two parts involving World War II were so evocative and immersive I can't regret reading this book. But then we get the coda set in 1999 and it left me sputtering in anger. The thing is that ending in many ways is brilliant, and I can recognize that even through my hate for it.


And here be the spoiler part where I get the bitterness towards the Briony the author and McEwan the Author off my chest. In the third part, Briony gets the letter from the magazine about her novella, and I feel contemptuous because obviously she's learned nothing. What happened to Robbie--what she did to Robbie--is still nothing but grist for her writing mill. Certainly her working as a nurse is no atonement--its more material for her writing and self-aggrandizement. If you truly want to atone for a crime, the first thing you must do above all is eschew the spoils--and real regret and the ironies of that letter seemed lost on her.

Then, well, she seems to have enough of an epiphany and to see something of the letter's irony to come to her sister and do what Cecelia and Robbie want her to do to put things to rights. Doing so would have real cost, cause real pain and humiliation to her and the book there might have ended on a note of redemption for the character.

But wait! It turns out in the contemporary coda that Robbie and Cecelia died in the war, Briony has had a brilliant career as a novelist and is celebrated by her family in her old age. Even the odious Lola and Paul are Lady and Lord. Her "atonement" is a creative non-fiction account of what happened on that day over 60 years ago (with a happy ending!)--and it will only be released after Briony's death when it can cost her nothing.

I can already hear people protesting that ending it without the coda would be too pat. Why that coda is a brilliant reflection on the nature of writing and the author as God! (The very fact that's pointed out in the book just makes me feel even more bitter toward McEwan.)

Sorry. But there's something a bit too facile in that. I'm a bit alienated by writers who write about writing--it's narcissistic, as if nothing *is* more important than God, the author. Mind you, that is an apt characterization of Briony--from adolescent to septuagenarian--but I was still left angry at her and Ewan both.
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LibraryThing member lecari
A young girl, Briony, sees her older sister, Cecila, and a man, Robbie, who is a family friend, together and makes an awful assumption about him, and because of this their lives are all changed forever. I mooched this after seeing the film. I'd say it's pretty close to the film - they didn't change very much (the ending is slightly different, but essentially the same).

This is a very sad, romantic story, but if you didn't like the film you probably wouldn't like the book either. It's quite graphic in places (both sexual and violent) which may put some people off.

Not a favourite, but it was a good, light read, and while I've not read any of Ian McEwan's book before he had an excellent way with words/setting the scene, a good knowledge of how people think/feel, and is also quite perceptive. For example, Briony says she doesn't really keep a proper diary, she just likes flicking through it and seeing/feeling the pages covered in her writing - I do this too XD He seems to have really thought out his characters, even to knowing their strange little habits like this one. I also found it interesting to read a romance written by a man! But he does it very well. I will be checking out some more of his books, based on this one.
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LibraryThing member kr04bps
How can you atone for a wrong when the injured parties are dead? The power of story to redeem a terrible injustice. But if she gets famous from her story, does the redemption count?
LibraryThing member anwulf
I tried. I really tried. It's like the eighth deadly sin for me not to finish a book. I just...can' it.
LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
When I was reading the first section of Atonement, where our narrator (Briony) is thirteen, I so felt like a little kid again. McEwan so strongly evokes the emotions of a pubescent girl, who sometimes like to stage plays and have fun with her little cousins, but has also started to long for inclusion in the "real, adult" world. And it's Briony's desire to be taken seriously, before she has the corresponding emotional maturity, that leads to her making a false accusation with serious repercussions for everyone in her life

At some level, Atonement is metafiction, questioning the position and responsibilities of a storyteller to his or her audience. Briony's need for melodrama stemmed from ideas borne out of nineteenth century fiction, but clearly life ought not be a nineteenth cenutury novel. So what should it be, how do we craft "plots" to live out, and what exactly is art imitating if not life? The book becomes more realistic than realist fiction, with these underlying self-aware traces beneath the plot

It's a beautifully-written and important novel. Everything - the characters, setting, and events - are all so skillfully done that the entire work is just compelling and seamless; really impressive
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LibraryThing member melydia
I wanted, so desperately, to like this novel. But the fact of the matter is that I found it tremendously tedious. Though the back cover blurb talks of young Briony’s mistaken accusation regarding her cousin’s sexual assault and its horrible consequences, this event does not actually happen until about halfway through the book. The plot is buried in page after page of literary navel-gazing, and the “twist” ending put me off so much that I wondered why I’d wasted all that time getting there. I suspect the movie is tidier, assuming it leaves out such thrilling passages as Briony pondering the possibility of her not being the star of everyone else’s life story while watching her finger bend back and forth. The writing itself was fine - the description quite vivid, the language very, er, literary - but I found the whole thing tiresome and I frankly can’t understand why so many rave about this lengthy piece of rambling blather.… (more)
LibraryThing member krizia_lazaro
A really good, haunting read. This a book that would not let you fall asleep just thinking about it. It has great writing, Ian McEwan is the master of control. It has a very gripping plot. Despite the control it was given, the emotions are too raw. I just felt all the bitterness, love, regret, passion and longing in the book. And you would definitely love the characters especially Briony. A standing ovation! :)… (more)
LibraryThing member Rachissy
I was slow to get into the story. I don't know if it's because I knew the story line from seeing the movie or maybe I just had too much going on that day. However once I was about 100 pages in I was able to really connect with the story and found myself trying to make more time to read it. I also found that despite knowing how it turns out in the end, it still broke my heart. Of course I felt awful for Robbie and Cecelia and the direction their lives and love took but I really connected with Briony. I've made mistakes and lived with the guilt that came from it but nothing to the magnitude of hers. Her guilt was all consuming and so immense, it was almost palpable, and she carried it for her entire life. The idea of living like that forever and never being able to make proper amends is really just unimaginable and it hurt my heart. All in all I truly enjoyed the book… (more)
LibraryThing member BonnieLymer
I have heard good things about this book and really wanted to like it. Three chapters in, I gave up. It simply did not hold my interest. It is no longer in my collection. I set it free via Book Crossing.
LibraryThing member Kplatypus
So I finally gave into the hype and grabbed a (library) copy on Atonement. Given the hype, and the movie adaptation, I wasn't expecting much- I'm pretty cynical about these things. However, I was pleasantly surprised by both the plot and the writing. While I don't think this is a "masterpiece," as I've heard so many refer to it, I did find it a very enjoyable read.

WARNING: This review might be seen as including low-level spoilers.

Atonement tells the story of Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner, young lovers whose lives are torn apart by the lies of Cecilia's younger sister, Briony. The story is told, by and large, from Briony's point of view, and is made up of three parts. The first tells the story of what happened that summer, the second tells of Robbie's subsequent experiences in France during World War 2, and the final part tells of Briony's realization of the results of her actions and her attempts to, well, atone. The books ends with Briony as an old woman reflecting on her life, her actions, and her future.

The story of lovers waiting for each other through a war is a classic one, as is the story of a lover wronged, but McEwan did a nice job of combining the two. In most parts the novels flows well, and the changes in perspective and time don't come across as abrupt. However, one of my biggest complaints is that McEwan used foreshadowing with far too heavy a hand, especially in the first part of the book. The characters repeatedly say things like "Years later I would look back on that night and wish I could stop myself from committing the crime," or something of that sort. Over and over again. Annoying. I don't actually need to be spoonfed, you know? Still, most of the pacing felt natural. As far as the writing goes, there were chunks of beautifully crafted prose sprinkled among an expanse of perfectly fine if underwhelming prose. Which is fine, since I don't expect every writer to be Nabokov, and when McEwan did get the mood just right, it was lovely. He is particularly skilled at describing emotional and intellectual transitions- his description of Briony's thoughts while a child were striking for their accurate portrayal of the combined childishness and maturity often seen in children of that age. (The character is 13, for those who haven't read the book.)

The other aspect of the book that I felt was well-done were the descriptions of Robbie's experiences in France. Since I don't know a great deal about what happened during the earlier years of World War 2, I can't speak to the veracity of his descriptions, but the internal conversations that Robbie has struck me as both plausible and tragic, as he struggles to survive both physically and mentally, in the chaos of war. The same could be said of the descriptions of Briony's time working as a nurse, handling the wounded.

Aside from the sometimes mediocre writing, the actual story drew some criticism from me. The story of the enduring love between Cecilia and Robbie, based on one brief liaison, seemed highly unlikely to me, but then my friends do say I don't have a romantic bone in my body. I would disagree, but I digress. I can understand waiting for someone for years, if you have something to build on, but 5 minutes? Come on. When I forgot about the actual premise, I enjoyed the love story, but when it was brought to my attention by something in the story, I found myself scoffing all over again. It didn't ruin the book or anything, but it did strike me as requiring a huge suspension of disbelief.

Lately I've been horrified by what garbage is wildly popular (ahem *Dan Brown* cough), not to mention labeled a "modern classic", so I was pleased to find that this book, which falls into both of those categories, was not actually horrible, or brainless, or unspeakably (and pointlessly) pretentious (ahem *The Corrections* cough). Atonement is a thoroughly readable book and while I don't expect it to last the test of time required to make it a true classic, it at least needn't shame our generation.
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LibraryThing member tibobi
The Short of It:

Atonement is a multifaceted little gem of a book.

The Rest of It:

During the summer of 1935, Briony witnesses an encounter between her older sister Cecilia and a boy named Robbie Turner. Briony’s interpretation of the event and those thereafter, lead her to tell a devastating lie. As time passes, the realization of what she’s done leaves her desperate for redemption and forgiveness which only the absolute truth can bring.

I love this book. I first read it years ago for book group but recently re-read it for the class I am taking. In class, we took several weeks to discuss it and let me tell you, it was quite a treat to have that much time to discuss the book. This is one of those books that is a bit of everything. There’s a love story, betrayal, the loss of innocence, war and the whole theme of atonement itself…it’s just so rich. So full.

As you read, your thoughts go one way and then another. McEwan’s attention to detail was tiresome for some, but for me? I lapped it up. The setting and the characters were easy to picture in my mind and I found that I could relate to several of the characters at once. A young girl, living in a huge house out in the English countryside tells a lie that can’t be taken back. How can you resist that?

Atonement is considered by many to be McEwan’s best work. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2001 and this is one case where I can totally understand why.
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LibraryThing member fig2
A young girl sees her older sister and a man in a situation she doesn't understand. She makes an accusation that changes the course of all three lives. This is a study of a life-long search for forgiveness and atonement. McEwan is at his best here. An amazing and excellent book!
LibraryThing member susanbevans
By now I'm sure you are all aware of of the synopsis of Ian McEwan's Atonement, but I'll give you the bare bones here anyway. Robbie Turner and Cecilia Tallis have know each other practically all their lives - they grew up together as close neighbors, and even attended Cambridge together. At the beginning of the novel, they have recently discovered that they are in love with each other. Unfortunately, the hyperactive imagination of Cecilia's 13-year-old sister Briony causes nothing but trouble for the young lovers, as she accuses Robbie of a most heinous crime, and he is sent to prison.

The story then jumps to Robbie as he fights in World War II. Wrongly imprisoned, his name sullied in society, Robbie enlists in the army to in order to be released from prison early. Cecilia has stayed true to him for years, cutting herself off from her entire family after their betrayal, and now he must stay alive for her, so that they can finally have their happy ending.

Briony meanwhile, has seemed to come to terms with the damage she caused, and wants to make amends with Cecilia and Robbie. If she will recant her damning testimony from 5 years ago, maybe Robbie will be cleared of all charges. Unfortunately, McEwan has a little something up his sleeves - a sudden dramatic turn of events that leave the reader breathless and with a racing heart and mind.

In it's premise, Atonement had definite possibilities. It was obvious that copious amounts of historical research went into the writing of this novel. The sense of time and place serve to draw you in to the story, where all your senses are completely engaged. The plot was complex, seamless and delicious. That being said, I did have a few problems with the book.

Too many questions were left unanswered - McEwan could have cut out every page of Emily Tallis' migraines and resentment toward her family, and instead spent time describing the police procedures surrounding the questioning and arrest of Robbie. Why did so many grown people take the word of a 13-year-old child for the truth - even though she could not possibly have seen what she said she saw?

The description of the members of the Tallis household felt contrived and totally cliche. The patriarch John Tallis, is a man who "works" late and stays in town most evenings and weekends. Emily Tallis, matriarch of the family, spends most of her time in bed, suffering from migraines, and chooses to look the other way at her husband's supposed infidelity, in order to keep herself in the lifestyle she has come to enjoy. Their son Leon is the golden boy of the story - adored by everyone around him. Cecilia is your typical wannabe feminist and Briony is the quintessential spoiled brat.

The other problem I had in reading Atonement was that the story moved along at a rather tedious pace. It was so dull and monotonous at times, that I couldn't even bring myself to pick it back up. I almost put is aside permanently several times before I even reached the half-way point! The only thing that really made me continue was my need to complete the novel. I didn't really care for any of the characters, much less have a desire to see what became of them.

The improbable chain of events and coincidences and the intense and lush imagery, combine in Atonement and serve to overwhelm the reader - in my case, not in a good way. It was melodramatic and slow moving, and I didn't enjoy it much at all.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
I am learning that you can’t go wrong reading an Ian McEwan novel. My latest McEwan selection, Atonement, was no exception. Marked by superb storytelling, interesting characters and “a-ha” plot twists, Atonement wrapped around me like a blanket. It’s a story I won’t soon forget.

Having already seen the movie, I had a basic idea of the characters and story. It’s the love story of Cecilia and Robbie, whose fledgling romance was ripped apart when Cecilia’s sister, Briony, falsely accused Robbie of raping her cousin. It’s also the story of forgiveness and redemption, as an older Briony tried to rectify her error but recanting her story. And if that’s not enough, it’s the story of war: war between countries fighting in World War II – and strife in Cecilia and Briony’s families as they were torn apart by Briony’s accusation.

What I liked best about Atonement was the excellent characterization. It was easy to love Robbie and Cecilia and feel sorry for their fates. It was easy to dislike the young Briony with her 10-year-old smugness and soften a bit when you met her as a young nurse. Even the secondary characters held my interest.

I would recommend Atonement without reservation to any reader who loves modern literary fiction. I look forward to reading more by Ian McEwan – he is one of the best storytellers of his generation.
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LibraryThing member trinityM82
I hate books that end like this one does. The author takes advantage of your hope and trust, but produces no real meaning for it. And it is so horribly depressing that you can barely stand it.
LibraryThing member lit_chick
Atonement is a well told, engaging read. Set in England at the time of WWII, naïve thirteen year old, Briony Tallis, misunderstands a passionate encounter she witnesses between her much older sister and a young man. Her misunderstanding causes her to knowingly commit a crime that will change forever the lives of all involved. Years later, she will attempt to atone for her misdoing.

I credit McEwan’s talent with my spunky response to the characters. Briony, I found decidedly sinister, in spite of her youth and naivety. And I gave her little margin for being the product of an inept, hypochondriac mother and an absent , philandering father. I knew logically that her parents were at least as responsible as she for her behavior; still I could not excuse. In this regard, I stood firmly in Turner’s court: “Yes, she was a child. But not every child sends a man to prison with a lie. Not every child is so purposeful and malign, so consistent over time, never wavering never doubted … It was not reasonable or just to hate Briony, but it helped” (293)

The fact that Briony’s outrageous lie is “never doubted” was prepsterous to me. I detested the adults, including police, who so willingly, and so repeatedly, allowed themselves to be played by a child. “They chose to believe the evidence of silly, hysterical little girl. In fact, they encouraged her by giving her no room to turn back.” (267) I expect the adults used Briony’s suspect offering as a way to circumvent for themselves the inevitable discomfort they would encounter in the event of a criminal investigation into sexual assault. What I found most disturbing is that their self-interest is entirely believable.

As Atonement unfolded, McEwan kept me fully engaged. In fact, even had I not enjoyed the novel, I would have read it just to experience the final hundred pages. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member edesvousges
Synopsis: England, summer of 1935. The world is on the verge of its second world war. Thirteen-year-old Briony views, from her bedroom window, a puzzling scene, then is privy to a turn of events, which she very seriously misunderstands. The novel takes us through most of Europe and World War II. I fear I've already said too much.
Readability: Hard to get into at first (in my opinion due mostly in part to the fact that it harkens a little too much to Virginia Woolf [ahem]), but completely captivating, nevertheless. Even when I had trouble getting into it, I still couldn't stop thinking about it.
Predictability: To the bitter, bitter end, I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. Talk about twists and turns!
Couldn't Put it Down Factor: Let me paint a picture for you. It took me a full week to read the first 100 pages. I read the remaining 400 pages in 36 hours. I exaggerate not.
Recommend it?: YESSSSSSSSSSS! Be warned, however, that part of Briony's misunderstanding revolves around a very, VERY bad word. Truly shocking. In fact, I thought, "Why would the author DO that??" And then, as I kept reading (because I couldn't stop), it all became clear. Regardless, I would hate to recommend a book only to offend someone... There is some other colorful language, but less than is in most movies these days.
Overall Rating: Four and a half stars. Minus one half because I just can't bear to give it a perfect five. Yes, I would be that kind of teacher.
The Movie: Love, love, LOVED it! L.O.V.E.D. it. Lovedit. DO read the book first. You'll enjoy the movie either way, but it was so nice to "hear" the actors thoughts, ifyouknowwhatimean.
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