Carolyn's Reviews > Atonement

Atonement by Ian McEwan
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Feb 03, 08

She sits at her desk in the fading late afternoon light that oozes in through the slats. Her hands hover over the keyboard, and she wills them to move, to begin typing out a review of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, but they do not. She understands, of course, that willing her hands to move and making them move are two entirely different things, that in fact the thinking about the one is preventing her from accomplishing the other. And yet she doesn't quite know where to begin, what to say.

How can she best express her profound admiration for McEwan's gift of more fully putting the reader into the minds of his characters than perhaps any other writer she has read? In fact, there were many times throughout her reading of the book where McEwan captured the inner workings of a character with such precision that Carolyn thought to herself, "Why, yes, that's it exactly. That's exactly what would happen inside me if I were this character, in this situation, and yet never could I articulate it myself."

And what generosity of spirit McEwan demonstrates, that even the young person whose transgressions against the truth put the most crucial events of the story into motion and have such terrible consequences, is presented in such a way that, although we may despise what she does, we come to understand her so well. In truth, Carolyn, who was also given to trust in the conspiracies of her heart and her imagination as a child, saw some of herself in this character.

And oh, the structure, with its powerful final pages, surprising us and making this story so much more than it was already. Carolyn longs to say more about these final pages, but she is reluctant to do so, for fear of spoiling the novel's impact for others.

And yet, for all this, Carolyn cannot deny that there were sections in the book that did not fully captivate her. Surely such a revelation says more about her than about the book, for there is no denying that Atonement is a tremendous literary achievement. At times perhaps, to Carolyn, the narrator's description of the events and the internal lives of the characters was, perhaps, too precise, if such a thing can be felt a bit removed and clinical, coolly observing and reporting on the events from a safe remove.

She sits there still, trying to best determine how to express all this. Simply clicking the mouse to assign the book four out of five stars is so inadequate as to be almost comical, when thinking of such a rich, complex and wonderful book as Atonement. And yet she remains at a loss, utterly uncertain as to what else to do, as the sky outside her window takes on a soft pink and purple glow.

Berkeley, 2008
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message 1: by Alissa (last edited Feb 10, 2008 05:38PM) (new) - added it

Alissa Holland I'm disappointed to learn that more isn't revealed about the "rape couple" in the novel; but, they aren't really the point of the story and perhaps the author felt as if those characters were unworthy of readers' time and consideration, irredeemable personalities unlike Briony.

I was really touched by the film and was looking forward to reading the book someday; after reading your review, however, my curiosity is piqued even more to delve into the inner workings of the characters' minds. I'll have to read it sooner than later.

Thanks for a great review, Carolyn!

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