In the innocence of childhood, precocious talents are encouraged, applauded. But by the next stage of development, adolescents are often capable of spite and revenge, and exhibit a certain primal sense of justice. Things are black and white, not mitigated, by circumstance and inside a clever young mind, a twisted labyrinth of perplexing ideation emerges. Simultaneously the ripe possibility of consequence is irresistible, hanging suspended, the flash of guillotine glinting above the prisoner's exposed, perhaps innocent, neck. When the blade descends, imagination prances about, dressed as truth and clearly believable.
The young girl, Briony, is so perfectly realized that I recognized myself in her, caught in the consuming greed for notice, compelling the adults to admit the correctness of her new-found maturity, rather than the unstable perceptions of a child. All is contained in the moment, not the consequences, for Briony is immersed in her own self-importance. She is incapable of perceiving the degree to which lives are altered, incapable of such consideration. I can barely forgive her this hubris, no matter what her age.
Two other characters are drastically affected, their lives irrevocably changed: Cecilia, Briony's older sister, and Robbie, grown son of a family retainer. Helpless to change the course of events, Cecilia bitterly carves out a life she can endure, unwilling to meet with her sister for years. Eventually, as Briony truly matures, she begins to fathom the nature of her misdeed and the moral burden she bears. In her guilty angst, Briony is humanized and made available as just another flawed human being.
There is an indictment, through Briony, of the class-consciousness that enables accusation and judgment without the need of adequate proof. The lower classes of 1935 London are, in Briony's perception, simply incapable of the finer instincts of her class and therefore culpable by default. Social acceptance by virtue of birth or background creates a false sense of entitlement, eroding the society that gives it credence. By the end, I felt in need of redemption myself. But then, isn't that the point? Luan Gaines.
What did you think of this review?
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...