Apologize and Atonement by Ian McEwan


* 1001 Books Book

Cover shows the old, dreary Tallis house.

Cover shows the old, dreary Tallis house.

McEwan, I., & Tanner, J. (2002). Atonement. Prince Fredrick, MD: Recorded Books.

Seeing the blurbs for the movie based on this book and hearing OneRepublic’s “Apologize” immediately influenced me to request Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Having heard much about the author, I was curious to how well McEwan could deliver. Soon, the audiobook was telling me the story in my car.

It’s a hot summer day in 1935 England. The upper class Tallis household abounds with activity, especially the young, thirteen year old Briony. Briony is an aspiring writer with a great imagination. She has just penned a play for her grown brother Leon’s homecoming. She desperately wants her cousins, the stunning Lola, and twin boys Jackson and Pierrot, to perform her play, The Trials of Arabella. Feeling her thunder stolen by Lola, Briony just happens to see something going on at the fountain between her older sister Cecilia and the charlady’s son, Robbie Turner. Only viewing and not hearing the exchange between the two Cambridge students, Briony holds sinister suspicions. Ditching her play and her cousins, Briony’s imagination runs away with her.

Meanwhile, the focus of the novel shifts to and from various points of view, including the seeming dilettante Cecilia, the intelligent and scholarly Robbie, and the wise, migraine plagued matriarch, Emily Tallis. These views elucidate for the reader what has actually happened. The evening arrives, bringing on the entrance of playboy Leon and social equal Paul Marshall. When there is a nasty turn of events that night, Briony jumps to conclusions, changing the lives of all present at the Tallis household that summer evening in 1935. From this point onward, Briony longs for atonement.

Like many a psyche, Atonement is a very complex. Divided into four parts, the novel delves into the thoughts and motives behind numerous characters. Also, the book deals with numerous issues; social implications, morality, guilt, and responsibility. The dimension brought to Briony Tallis simply amazed me. In Atonement, the reader meets Briony as a child, a young adult, and a septuagenarian. In each phase, Briony is different and yet the same. Latter parts of the book illustrate World War II scenes of Dunkirk and a hospital in London with sharp clarity.

Another part of Atonement I admired was how Briony’s actions in 1935 resonate throughout the rest of the book. Responsibility as a human and as a writer becomes piercingly acute. Whether or not she gains much desired atonement is open for interpretation.

Nonetheless, I was not crazy about the choppy transitions from Part I to Parts II and III. Part I gave readers such as myself insight on the thoughts of many. After Part I, several of the characters react almost implausibly or evaporate by Part II. While I appreciated the introduction to Cecilia’s great intellect, Robbie’s tenderness, and even Briony’s shame, I missed other characters such as Emily Tallis and the cousins in other parts of the book.

Atonement is a book I will not soon forget. The plot twists, the conception of characters, the peppering of other works of literature throughout Atonement, etc, etc make for a moving read. This book has definitely raised the bar for many others.

Despite the ending, I give the book 4 out of 5 Pearls.

Places: Cambridge University, Dunkirk, London, UK

Music Brought to Mind: “Apologize” by OneRepublic

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