**spoiler alert** This isn't necessarily a book I would have chosen for myself; I ended up reading it because it was set as one of ten texts on a univ**spoiler alert** This isn't necessarily a book I would have chosen for myself; I ended up reading it because it was set as one of ten texts on a university module intended as a brief overview of 20th century English literature. I did actually own a copy already, having picked it up at a charity shop shortly after the film came out (which, incidentally, I've still not got around to watching), but before I had a chance to read it one of my friends gave me a general plot overview and I was a bit put off - once I knew more of what it was about, it just didn't sound like my sort of thing. So "Atonement" sat, almost forgotten, on my bookshelf for a few years, until the aforementioned circumstances prompted me to give it a go.
I have to admit, I enjoyed it more than I expected to. I'll own up that I was biased by my friend's unflattering description of some of the subject matter (Robbie and Cecilia's semi-public sexual encounters, the rape of Lola and her subsequent marriage to the rapist) and in fact these were not as disturbingly graphic or exploitative as I'd thought they would be. McEwan's prose is a little more florid in places than I tend to like but he comes up with some great turns of phrase here and there. I really enjoyed the vivid and well-researched historical detail in Parts Two and Three, particularly the account of Briony's work in the hospital, which had me hooked for pages on end. The scene where Briony comforts the dying French soldier was the only one in the book that had me genuinely emotionally involved with the characters, rather than feeling like a critical student reader with one eye always on the exam. Also, Briony's frequent meta-fictional musings held a good deal of interest for me, both as a literature student and an avid reader in general. The book is certainly not without its good points, even when being read from an already cynical perspective.
However, I have to say that for me the bad points of this book outweighed the good. A lot of this is probably down to personal taste - McEwan's style is reminiscent of Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence, both authors I don't much care for, although I know a lot of people who can't get enough of all three. Aside from these considerations, though, I felt that the book was genuinely lacking in places, and some points that McEwan may well have left deliberately ambiguous just seemed like plot holes to me. To pick just a couple of examples - why, when they believe that a dangerous, sex-crazed maniac is on the loose in the grounds at night, do Lola and Briony go off separately, without each other or an adult to protect them, and with no light to see or be seen by? And what new evidence allows Briony and Lola to suddenly learn, apparently some time after the fact, that Paul Marshall is the rapist, when before the only suspects had been Robbie and Danny? I've tried running through several possible scenarios in my head for the last one, but I can't find one that clears it up satisfactorily.
To conclude - my 2 star rating is partly influenced by my own personal tastes, which admittedly biased me from the beginning, but partly based on what I feel were genuine problems with the story. While I can think of people to whom I would recommend McEwan's writing, I doubt I'll be reading another one of his books unless it's a set text again, simply because there are authors out there more to my taste....more