Author: Ian McEwan
Genre: Fiction, meta fiction
Atonement is an emotional journey, a wrenching coming-of-age tale, that starts from an incident and extends well beyond it, in real life ramifications and in memory.
Ian McEwan’s exquisite book starts in pre war England. In an idyllic country house, the lives of the people living therein and visiting are about to change irrevocably through a short, nearly invisible incident; invisible and unnoticed by everyone except the budding 13 year old writer whose verdurous imagination leads her to think of things beyond her understanding.
The story begins in England, in 1935. The events of one day in summer are set out. The cast comprises of Briony, the precocious 13 year old, who is on the threshold of adulthood and literary revelation, or so she feels. Her elder sister, Cecilia is home after graduation, soaking in the glorious summer heat and wondering what to do with her life. On the same estate is Robbie, recently graduated, like Cecilia and on the cusp of an exciting life ahead that is full of possibilities. Leon, the eldest son of the household is awaited eagerly by all that evening. To the household are added the unfortunate and confused nine year old twins and their scheming, attention-seeking older sister, Lola; escaping a broken home and sent to the country to find love and care.
The fateful day full of unexpected events is spent, and for everyone involved, their lives change forever. The lull, the idyllic gives way to the ugly and the unexpected and soon the story moves to the battlefields of the second world war and to the weary trudge of the retreating British army through the French countryside. Death and terror, through Stuka attacks are so minutely described that I could visualise them to the last detail and feel the terror.
Superimposed on the war is love. Love is private and flickers tentatively, feeding on memories, words and little stolen encounters.
In the next part of the book, we come back to Briony, who has enrolled to be a nurse, to contribute to the war effort and to atone for her actions that fateful day.
What’s to like
The language is lyrical, abstract and stark.The book talks of the power of words and contrasts the constructive and the destructive power of words.
What’s not to like
The story starts with a languid pace and there is an old world feel to the abstract detail. The next part is a rude shock both in terms of style and content. From here, the story seems to move through a series of unbelievable events; the coming together of the lovers, Briony’s walk through London to witness Lola’s wedding and her meeting Robbie and Cecilia together, all at once.
Atonement is a brilliant narrative of love, war and life. Read it for the language and for the power words have over us.
Movie Review Coming Soon.