Laura's Reviews > Atonement

Atonement by Ian McEwan
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's review
Jul 08, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: best-seller, war, english-lit

This created such a stir when it came out that I borrowed my brother-in-law’s copy to see what the fuss was about — sadly, not as much as I’d hoped. The story opens at a large country house on a stifling hot summer day in 1935. The central character, Briony, an irritating tweenie with an overactive imagination who fancies herself an author, has just finished writing a play that she wants to put on for her visiting older brother and his friend. Also on the scene are her obnoxious cousins, whom she is supposed to be nice to because their parents are getting a divorce, a mother who is AWOL with a “migraine”, a father who is busy with something else, her older sister, and their housekeeper’s handsome son Robbie, who’s getting ready to attend medical school. Briony witnesses a couple of encounters between her sister and Robbie (one rather graphic, so brace yourself) that she doesn’t understand, and then is party to a deception that wildly changes the course of their lives. The second section of the book takes place five years later and follows Robbie, now in the army, as he retreats to Dunkirk. The third section returns to Briony, who is working as a nurse as part of her “atonement” for what she did, and the final part takes place at her 77th birthday party. While sections are beautifully written, overall I thought it lacked unity, and some of the characters were so irritating that I just wanted to slap them and close the book. Frankly I enjoyed the movie far more, which I know makes me sound like a philistine, but at least the film was cohesive.
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Sorry. I mean, tastes differ, and all that...

Laura I know, it is odd to prefer a movie version, especially a movie starring that jaw-jutting Keira Knightley. I suppose her skeletal frame and underbite didn't annoy me as much as the character of Briony did in the book; in the film I found Briony more sympathetic, and therefore the story more moving.

Manny But isn't Briony meant to be unsympathetic, in fact kind of crazy? At least in the first act?

And so many of the details I'd liked most in the book had disappeared, or shrunk down to almost nothing. The mother's migraines, and her husband's adulterous affair, and the grandchildren finally staging Arabella right at the end. All the stuff about how her short story evolves, and the wonderful rejection note she receives from Cyril Connolly.

Obviously it would be hard to put some of this into a movie, but I still felt short-changed...

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