Amy Galaviz's Reviews > Atonement

Atonement by Ian McEwan
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Mar 27, 08

Read in March, 2008

**NOTE: Spoilers included: I like the experience of reading a book and then seeing the movie, which is why I read this book. Both the book and the movie are highly acclaimed, so what could be a better choice?

I haven’t yet seen the movie since I just finished the book today, but perhaps I should have read "No Country For Old Men" instead.

100 pages into this book, I wanted to just give up. It felt like something that would have been forced on me by high school English teachers, with all the descriptive, flowery language about British aristocratic characters, scenery, and architecture in 1935 that I just couldn’t bring myself to care about. Were it not for the knowledge that Briony was going to commit a crime (based on the back of the book), I would have definitely put it down. Even so, I thought the crime would have been something worse than perjury – taking approximately 170+ pages to build up to the crime better damn well be murder! (joking) – but nonetheless, her crime tore her family apart, which was bad. But still, taking up 170+ pages to describe one afternoon (as many people on this site have noted) was unnecessary. And even though the writing style was beautiful, elegant, etc., it seemed like nothing really *happened;* it was mostly thoughts, memories, and physical descriptions, much of which were irrelevant to the actual plot. Maybe that’s just my preference for reading books in which the characters actually DO something and TALK to each other. I mean, don’t get me wrong, a little description is ok and necessary, but this just took it to the extreme. I know McEwan was just trying to show the depth of the characters at play, thus getting the reader to care more about them and make the impact of what was about to happen more forceful, but he overdid it to the point of making me not care at all. I didn’t think the plot of this book really needed such in-depth description.

However, Parts 2 & 3 changed gears and definitely picked up; it was like reading a completely different book! I enjoyed reading about Robbie’s traumatic escape from France during the Battle of Dunkirk, and Briony’s experience as a nurse tending to the wounded/dead of World War II. Both sections were a refreshing contrast to the superficial, snobbish feel of the first section of the book (not that war is refreshing).

One thing I thought the book was missing and should have elaborated on more rather than the tedious Part 1 was the immediate aftermath of Briony’s crime. After the crime occurs, the plot immediately jumps to Robbie in France during the war, and we are told very little of what happened in the 3 year period of time between the crime itself, Robbie’s prison sentence, and his eventual deployment. We know that Robbie had aspired to go to medical school, but was the outcome of the novel a result of Briony’s crime or World War II? Even if Briony committed no crime, wasn’t Robbie’s being drafted to the war and eventual separation from Cecilia inevitable?

Despite being unsure if the novel’s outcome was the result of war or a childhood crime, unlike what some posters on this site have written, I actually liked the ending. I liked the revelation that the story was a novel within a novel, and an attempt at atonement that never happens in (Briony’s fictional) reality. If Briony had went on to talk to her family, lawyers, and legally retracted her false statement, and then Cecilia and Robbie lived happily ever after and forgave Briony, the novel would have been merely a glorified version of Briony’s juvenile The Trials of Arabella. Maybe it’s just me, but happy, neat endings in movies, books, etc. sometimes just get old. Life is just not that perfect, and the fact is, seemingly innocuous actions in the present may lead to consequences that can never be redeemed.

Overall, the length and weightiness of the first part of the book is why I only gave it 2 stars, but if that section had been condensed into, say, 50 pages or less, I would have given it 5 stars.


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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Celeste I completely agree with you.It was excatly how I felt when I read the book.


message 2: by Ilse (new) - added it

Ilse I'm at page 102 now and I feel like giving up too... It's just... boring, nothing happens! And from what I'm reading in your review, there won't be that much that'll get me more into this book. I guess I'll have to give up indeed.
Thanks for your review.


message 3: by Shannon (new)

Shannon I mean, don’t get me wrong, a little description is ok and necessary, but this just took it to the extreme.

Amen.
I ended up putting this one down, but based on your review, I may just skip over to part 2 and start from there (I have seen the movie and have read up to Briony discovering Lola outside, however it took a lot of effort to get that far.)


message 4: by Donna (new)

Donna I gave up on the book. I won't pick it up again.


Jennie "We know that Robbie had aspired to go to medical school, but was the outcome of the novel a result of Briony’s crime or World War II? Even if Briony committed no crime, wasn’t Robbie’s being drafted to the war and eventual separation from Cecilia inevitable?"

I don't think his end was inevitable. I thought he was released from prison on the condition that he join up. Had he been in medical school instead, wouldn't he have been exempt from being in one of the armed forces?


message 6: by Melynda (new)

Melynda Okay Now I don't feel so bad. Yes, the description at the beginning was over the top and pointless too me. I have never put a book down to never want to pick it up again. I'm sorry to say I looked at the 2nd half of the book, but because of the beginning I put it down never to pick it up again, with no ill feelings.


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