Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.
On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.
Ahh, Atonement. One of those books that I think I’m going to give a certain rating, then have to drastically change everything I ever thought I knew by the time I get to the end. Don’t you just love those sorts of books?
We start off, unsurprisingly, with part 1. This is the part where I was dragging my feet, realising that this was just another book I had to read for school that I was going to hate. Part 1 is incredibly boring, with Briony completely misunderstanding situations, and us jumping between point of views to see all the different versions of these events. It’s over half of the book, and it’s set over one day. Don’t get me wrong, it is clever, the way we see so many different versions of only a couple of events. And it gives us a really good basis for the characters in the book. In brief summary; not a fan of Briony, Cecelia and Robbie need to get their lives together and get themselves together, Lola is a bit messed up, but understandably. That’s the bare minimum of that.
Part 1 ends with a twist, though. A terrible, awful twist, that changes the course of the book. Does Briony handle the situation well? Why, no, not at all! She stuffs it up more than I ever thought one individual person could stuff something up. The event is traumatising for everyone involved, and it cemented my utter hatred of Briony. Seriously, how could she lie like that??
Part 2 is considerably better. It’s completely set in Robbie’s head, which for me makes it easier to read. As this is historical fiction, this is the part where we get historical. Robbie is involved in the infamous retreat at Dunkirk, and holy moly is it good. The descriptions of some of the traumatising things he sees are so good, and parts had me in tears. It’s short, and chapter-less, but oh so good. Especially compared to the boringness of part 1, I found myself really loving this part.
Part 3 is from Briony, but focused around Cecelia, both of who are nurses in the war. Again, more heartbreaking images, deaths that made me cry. A similar vein to Robbie’s story, but different people. This is the part that wraps the story up, and the part you need at the end of a book. I really loved seeing how much Briony had grown up after her stupid actions in part 1. She was doing her best to “atone” (ooh, good one author) for the lives she ruined as a child. I love me a happy ending, and I loved this!
Wait, hold on. What do you mean there’s four parts? Oh, right, a part from Briony has an old lady! Cute, nice tidy ending.
OH, WAIT, NO IT’S NOT. Nope, this changes EVERYTHING. This is where I threw the book. This is where I wanted to pick it back up and read it all again. You think you know everything, but you know NOTHING (Jon Snow). Honestly though, nothing. It’s a book that changes everything when you get to the end, but in a way that gives you so much more appreciation for everything else you just read. Well, no more appreciation for Briony. I didn’t know it was possible, but I started to hate Briony even more. Did she even grow up at all?
Yeah, okay, this review was very much summary, not enough review. It’s hard, though, to tell what I thought about part 2 and 3 knowing what I now know about part 2 and 3. My initial thoughts aren’t the same as my thoughts now, so how can I properly review it? Just read the book. Read it, and come flail and vent with me