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Atonement

By Ian McEwan

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Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Published In: United Kingdom, 02 May 2002
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.

About the Author

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children's novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize, Atonement, Saturday, On Chesil Beach, Solar, Sweet Tooth and The Children Act.

Promotional Information

'The best thing he has ever written' - Observer

Reviews

This haunting novel, which just failed to win the Booker this year, is at once McEwan at his most closely observed and psychologically penetrating, and his most sweeping and expansive. It is in effect two, or even three, books in one, all masterfully crafted. The first part ushers us into a domestic crisis that becomes a crime story centered around an event that changes the lives of half a dozen people in an upper-middle-class country home on a hot English summer's day in 1935. Young Briony Tallis, a hyperimaginative 13-year-old who sees her older sister, Cecilia, mysteriously involved with their neighbor Robbie Turner, a fellow Cambridge student subsidized by the Tallis family, points a finger at Robbie when her young cousin is assaulted in the grounds that night; on her testimony alone, Robbie is jailed. The second part of the book moves forward five years to focus on Robbie, now freed and part of the British Army that was cornered and eventually evacuated by a fleet of small boats at Dunkirk during the early days of WWII. This is an astonishingly imagined fresco that bares the full anguish of what Britain in later years came to see as a kind of victory. In the third part, Briony becomes a nurse amid wonderfully observed scenes of London as the nation mobilizes. No, she doesn't have Robbie as a patient, but she begins to come to terms with what she has done and offers to make amends to him and Cecilia, now together as lovers. In an ironic epilogue that is yet another coup de the tre, McEwan offers Briony as an elderly novelist today, revisiting her past in fact and fancy and contributing a moving windup to the sustained flight of a deeply novelistic imagination. With each book McEwan ranges wider, and his powers have never been more fully in evidence than here. Author tour. (Mar. 19) Forecast: McEwan's work has been building a strong literary readership, and the brilliantly evoked prewar and wartime scenes here should extend that; expect strong results from handselling to the faithful. The cover photo of a stately English home nicely establishes the novel's atmosphere Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"A magnificent novel" Independent "A superb achievement" New York Times "The best thing he has ever written" Observer "He is this country's unrivalled literary giant...a fascinatingly strange, unique and gripping novel" Independent on Sunday "McEwan's best novel so far, his masterpiece" Evening Standard "A beautiful and majestic fictional panorama" -- John Updike "Subtle as well as powerful, adeptly encompassing comedy as well as atrocity, Atonement is a richly intricate book... A superb achievement" Sunday Times "Atonement is a masterpiece...it is also an elegy to a time which, however volatile, still had certainties" The Times

Adult/High School-Set during the seemingly idyllic summer of 1935 at the country estate of the Tallis family, the first section of this thought-provoking novel ambles through one scorchingly hot day that changes the lives of almost everyone present. The catalyst is overly imaginative 13-year-old Briony, who accuses Robbie, her sister's childhood friend and their housemaid's son, of raping her cousin Lola. The young man is sent to prison and Cecilia, heartbroken, abandons her family and becomes a nursing sister in London. In the second part, McEwan vividly describes another single day, this time Robbie's experiences during the ignominious British retreat to Dunkirk early in World War II. Finally, readers meet Briony again, now a nursing student. She is aware that she might have been wrong that day five years earlier and begins to seek atonement, having clearly ruined two lives. In a story within a story, McEwan brilliantly engages readers in a tour de force of what ifs and might have beens until they begin to wonder what actually happened. The story is compelling, the characters well drawn and engaging, and the outcome is almost always in doubt. The descriptions of the retreat and the subsequent hospitalization of the soldiers are grim and realistic. Readers are spared little, yet the journey is worth the observed pain and distress. Well-read teens will find much to think about in this novel.-Susan H. Woodcock, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

The major events of Booker Prize winner McEwan's new novel occur one day in the summer of 1935. Briony Tallis, a precocious 13-year-old with an overactive imagination, witnesses an incident between Cecilia, her older sister, and Robbie Turner, son of the Tallis family's charwoman. Already startled by the sexual overtones of what she has seen, she is completely shocked that evening when she surreptitiously reads a suggestive note Robbie has mistakenly sent Cecilia. It then becomes easy for her to believe that the shadowy figure who assaults her cousin Lola late that night is Robbie. Briony's testimony sends Robbie to prison and, through an early release, into the army on the eve of World War II. Gradually understanding what she has done, Briony seeks atonement first through a career in nursing and then through writing, with the novel itself framed as a literary confession it has taken her a lifetime to write. Moving deftly between styles, this is a compelling exploration of guilt and the struggle for forgiveness. Recommended for most public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/01.] Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

EAN: 9780099429791
ISBN: 0099429799
Publisher: Vintage
Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.9 x 2.7 centimetres (0.27 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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Reviews

4 of 5 Stars! '

Ian McEwan is one of Britain's best regarded living authors, and Atonement is considered one of his best. I certainly enjoyed this book, but it is NOT light reading.

Answering previous criticisms here:
- Yes, the main character is self-absorbed and pretentious. The plot revolves around this fact. The author has consciously created Briony Tallis this way. She only gains some semblance of realisation as to her flaws near the end of the novel.

- The first half of the book takes place over a single day. Having studied this book for English Literature classes, I know that others struggled with the first half because the pace is slow and very detailed. However, the second half truly rollicks along over several years, and is entirely set up by the first half.

There is no question in my mind that the second half of this book pays off the slow pace in the first half. This is one of the best books I have read this year.

The first half = 4 stars
2nd Half = 5 stars.

Ian McEwan often writes in this tremendously detailed fashion. Another of his novels, "On Chesil Beach", mostly takes place over only a few hours! Perhaps that makes him not for everyone, but for those who are keen readers, this is well worth it.

For others who don't like the sounds of the first half, the movie adaptation is very faithful to the book and extremely good as well.

2 person found this review helpful 0 did not

3 of 5 Stars! '

Well, that was all a bit depressing, wasn't it?

The beginning moves like molasses. While reading it, I was bored and kept waiting for it to just all be over. I wanted McEwan to get on with the story. When was it all going to happen? Or were we just going to read about Briony whack plants all day? And then finally it all happened, and we reached the guts of the story.

Parts two and three of the novel is where it shines. We read about Robbie in the war, and Briony finally maturing as she deals with the injured. I hoped to see more of Cecilia, but that wasn't meant to be.

I understand McEwan's reasoning for writing the book. Unreliable narrators- good unreliable narrators- are hard to come by. By, oh, what a depressing end.

I'd be interested to know if many people actually like Briony. Although a realistic character in many ways, she's not exactly the most likable. The nicest part we see of her is when she's dealing with Luc, and even then I can't help but feel that's because she was obliged to. The poor man had a fatal brain injury and was fading away with every word.

I suppose Briony is a testament to not live in fantasies, or else you may destroy your world, and the world of those around you.

 

4 of 5 Stars! '

A frustrating ending but that is only because I like either a happy ending or at least a 'complete' ending where you know what happens to everyone. This is a very well written book written in a unique way with not so much a twist but certainly an unexpected change in the story line. I recommend giving it time as it does get better half way through and also maybe even,i would suggest reading it a second time as you may miss the unexpected part and get confused the first time round. (Maybe i'm just a slow reader ;)The second half of the book gives a very insightful view into the war, a very interesting side is shown particularly of nurses during the war in the hospitals 'back home' and how much they too did for their contry.

 

4 of 5 Stars! '

Ian McEwan is one of Britain's best regarded living authors, and Atonement is considered one of his best. I certainly enjoyed this book, but it is NOT light reading.

Answering previous criticisms here:
- Yes, the main character is self-absorbed and pretentious. The plot revolves around this fact. The author has consciously created Briony Tallis this way. She only gains some semblance of realisation as to her flaws near the end of the novel.

- The first half of the book takes place over a single day. Having studied this book for English Literature classes, I know that others struggled with the first half because the pace is slow and very detailed. However, the second half truly rollicks along over several years, and is entirely set up by the first half.

There is no question in my mind that the second half of this book pays off the slow pace in the first half. This is one of the best books I have read this year.

The first half = 4 stars
2nd Half = 5 stars.

Ian McEwan often writes in this tremendously detailed fashion. Another of his novels, "On Chesil Beach", mostly takes place over only a few hours! Perhaps that makes him not for everyone, but for those who are keen readers, this is well worth it.

For others who don't like how first half sounds, the movie adaptation is very faithful to the book and extremely good as well.

 
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