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Atonement: A Novel

A book by Ian McEwan

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A terrible inevitability....

  • Mar 13, 2009
  • by
Reading Atonement was a fairly wrenching experience. Once begun, I was driven to finish. The growing tension of the story made it impossible for me to stop reading until the advent of a new course of action and I was released me until the next event.

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.


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review by . July 19, 2010
I saw the movie before I had the chance to read this book, so I knew the plot twist at the end of the book. Even knowing this I was blown away by the writing. This book proves just how painfully beautiful written language can be. I have read many reviews about how heavy this book is and  is hard to “get into” Yes, this is a heavy book and can be hard to "get into", but once past the first chapter the writing is so breath-takingly beautiful that I cannot do it justice …
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
This is an amazing story; the telling of the first day's events is some of the most masterful writing of the last 40 years. Watch out for that denouement!!!
Quick Tip by . June 17, 2010
No matter how hard I tried I could NOT care about the female lead in this book until she was played by Kiera Knightly in the movie version. Character development leaves much to be desired.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
this is what writer's hope to achieve when they speak of "honing their craft." poetic. breathtaking. i feel this book to my core.
review by . February 06, 2009
Having seen the film first, this book afforded no real surprises in terms of plot. The language was dense and difficult to enter into for quite some time, and I had to force myself to keep reading for the first 100 or more pages. The characters were interesting enough to keep me going, but the action and the way it was told left something to be desired.      However, as often happens with these types of styles, my efforts to finish the novel paid off handsomely. The prose, the …
review by . May 21, 2008
When it comes to Atonement, I'm arriving late to the party. I have been aware of the novel almost since it was first published and I know of the major motion picture produced from its story but, for various reasons, it has taken me several years to get around to reading it.     Ian McEwan has written a complicated, multi-layered book that is simply beautiful when considered as a whole. It is a coming-of-age novel, a crime novel, a love story, a war novel, a mystery and an author's …
review by . September 08, 2005
Reading Atonement was a wrenching experience. Once begun, I was driven to finish. The growing tension of the story made it impossible for me to stop reading until the advent of a new course of action and I was released me until the next time.     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 …
review by . October 04, 2002
Does your heart miss a beat when you see a new book by Dan Koontz? Have You ever marvelled at the writing style of John Saul? If so... you will hate this book. You will find the first 150 pages unbearable, and you probably will not realize that there is actually a surprise ending (it is very subtle). I don't mean to be rude, but this novel is simply not for everyone. However, if you enjoy well written and plush details (Which reminds a little of Daisy Miller, and some of Henry James' works). I enjoyed …
review by . April 30, 2002
This is a very well-written, indeed it's a beautifully written, book. The language used just keeps you flowing along through the story, which is absorbing in its own right. The book presents a tale of misplaced knowledge, of conclusions reached without sufficient information, and of accusations made which profoundly change the lives of everyone involved. We see guilt, sorrow, venality, heroism, in fact, almost every emotion runs through this book except the one most needed: forgiveness. The author …
review by . April 13, 2002
In a time when we are blessed with a wealth of gifted writers, even though we still mourn the passing of the likes of WG Sebald, it is still a wonder to encounter a work of the magnitude of Ian McEwan's current masterwork ATONEMENT. Aside from he fact that McEwan has been consistently placing his fine, terse novels such as AMSTERDAM and ENDURING LOVE before us, there is little to prepare us for the grandeur of his magnum opus ATONEMENT. We have grown to expect this author's mastery of the English …
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Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #108
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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About this book


 Ian McEwan's Booker Prize-nominatedAtonementis his first novel sinceAmsterdamtook home the prize in 1998. But whileAmsterdamwas a slim, sleek piece,Atonementis 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...

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Books, Cafe Libri, Fiction, Ian Mcewan


ISBN-10: 0385503954
ISBN-13: 978-0385503952
Author: Ian McEwan
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
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A Clockwork Orange

Coming of Age Novels


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