Friday, April 4, 2008

IAN MCEWAN/Atonement


This novel has already been reviewed here on this blog, but I thought I'd post a different perspective on the story.

Atonement is more about exploring the minds of different characters than anything else. We get to glimpse the inner workings of a precocious 13-year-old writer set on imposing order on the world around her, a young woman just gaining power over her life after graduating from college, a mother whose distance from her children makes her perception of them seem like that of a deluded psychic, a young man at once confident of his future and plauged with doubts about his recent romantic feelings toward his childhood friend, and one or two other intriguing characters.

The first half of the book is set on examining the motives and perceptions of each character in a series of events that changes all of their lives. The trouble starts when 13-year-old Briony sees her older sister jump into a fountain in her underwear while their housekeeper's son watches. By the end of the day, Briony has committed an act for which she will spend the rest of her life striving to find atonement.

What I love about this book is the exploration of the different personalities involved. I loved every character whose head I got inside of, even those who ended up pitted against each other. I couldn't help being drawn in by the way each one thought about the world--their plans, their memories, their flaws. It was also interesting to see how one person could be different things to different characters: is Robbie passionate or mad? is Paul a fool or a villain? is Emily a snob or an invalid?

The ending is also perfect. It's a bit of a quiet ending, but it brings the story back around to Briony's struggle as a writer to understand good and evil and the perception of truth. If you're okay with some psychological meandering, I definitely recommend this book. If character studies aren't your thing, you might still find the drama interesting enough to carry you through, or you might find yourself skipping to the second half of the book, which follows the plights of a few of the characters during WW II. In any case, I think this book is amazing, and I'm off to see if the movie does it any justice.

7 comments:

moonrat said...

for me, the important thing to realize while reading this book was that i wasn't going to finish it in one sitting. if you treat this as a page turner, you're not going to enjoy it--you have to savor it really slowly and let the full force of his language hit you properly.

Cheryl said...

I read it in, like, 3 days. It was a total page-turner to me. I think I'm just really into family drama too, though. In some ways, this book reminds me of As I Lay Dying--you get the perspective of each family member during a terrible event.

Linda said...

Cheryl, your thoughts echo mine. I finished ATONEMENT two days ago and loved the lyricism and characterization. It IS dense and, for me at least, required a careful reading (which was pleasant and not at all onerous). Tell me what you think of the flick; I haven't seen it yet and almost afraid to - how can it compare to the words? Peace...

Cheryl said...

Glad you liked the book! I got the DVD from Netflix and hope to watch it this weekend. I'll let you know what I think. Meanwhile, I'm going to try reading another McEwan book and see if I like his style in a different plot.

Cheryl said...

I watched the movie...

It was good. I liked it. Some very stunning visual moments. Lead guy did a terrific acting job. Kiera Knightly was not as annoying as usual. Awesome music.

It did feel like the movie was just barely skimming the surface of the book, but I fear that's the way it has to be with a book like this. Also, I think the fragmented story line works better in the book than in the movie.

Linda said...

Cheryl, Thanks for the flick review. I'm rereading sections of the book now, for instance the section when Robbie types out his love letter to Cecelia and then walks to the big house. It's so sensual - I just can't see how any film compares. But I'll rent and see how the film captures the mood - or not. Different media, different POVs... Thanks, and peace!

Alan said...

I thought the novel was wonderful and touching. Nice review.