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Reviews of Atonement (2002)

Review by SlowRain (2007-06-24)
This is a story of a young girl whose overactive imagination and incomplete understanding of adults combine to misinterpret the actions of her older sister and the son of the familyís housekeeper. What follows later that day is a crime for which the girl must spend the rest of her life atoning for.

Ian McEwan has two strengths on display in this novel: a detailed narrative with vivid descriptions of the most minuscule object or action, and brilliant characterization. Youíll notice that plot isnít listed among those. The story, unusually enough, is set in one- or two-day time frames over the course of many years, told from different points of view: one day in 1935, one day in 1940, another two days in 1940, and one day in 1999; however, most of the events in between are covered in flashbacks.

While the information in the novel is quite fascinating and well researched, much of it is told separate from the plot, and hardly relates. So, while the British retreat to Dunkirk and the duties of nursing are well described, and do provide a limited amount of characterization, they mainly serve to lengthen an already lengthy novel, rather than compliment it. The detail is so much that approximately the first half of the book (I would guess about 160 pages in paperback) is only one day. No item goes undescribed, no event gets overlooked: more often than not, they are milked for every last drop. Is that good writing or dragging it out? I donít know, but I tend to lean towards the latter.

The story, what little there is, is not without merit. When you strip away all the excess, McEwan has good things to say about how people can perceive the same event differently, seeking attention, sexual awakening, forgiveness, and, yes, atoning for one's sins. There is even a discourse on writing, which comes off as a little self-serving as McEwan seems to be defending his style more than anything else. If you have to defend your style in your own novel, thereís a good bet the reader will see through it.

It was an okay novel, but I think it would have gone down easier and would have been more poignant as a novella: for all of the words, there really wasnít much to it. Itís also the first time where I feel that the forthcoming movie, if done well, will be better than the source material.

Review by andrewq (2007-01-22) Contains spoilers. View anyway.

Quite a nice book. Interesting, but rather difficult to read. It wasn't easy getting through the first part. The second and third parts make up for it (and explains the tediousness of the beginning), but I still couldn't help feeling that something was missing.

There's no feeling of catharsis. Not everybody atones. I suppose not all endings are meant to make you feel satisfied but still.....

Perhaps it's because the book is written from different view points so there's no set heroin or hero to root for. I didn't like Briony as a child so even when she was an adult I had my reservations about her character. I only really started liking her in the last bit(when she's like 70!). I also felt cheated out of her character development because of the time jump in-between the different parts.

All in all, a book i would recommend, but only to a person i know can sit through the 1st bit and isn't only reading for entertainment.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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