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On the hottest day of the summer of 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge.
By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

372 pages, Paperback

First published September 20, 2001

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About the author

Ian McEwan studied at the University of Sussex, where he received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970 and later received his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

McEwan's works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Etranger (1993) for The Child in Time; and Germany's Shakespeare Prize in 1999. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). He was awarded a CBE in 2000. In 2006, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Saturday and his novel On Chesil Beach was named Galaxy Book of the Year at the 2008 British Book Awards where McEwan was also named Reader's Digest Author of the Year.

McEwan lives in London.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 20,924 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.7k followers
September 24, 2014
There are many reviews already of this book, and I did wonder whether the world needed any more. But I disagree so strongly with some of the opinions expressed that I'm afraid I have to exercise my right to reply. Two things in particular stand out.

Let me deal with the simpler one first. Some people seem appalled that the author is putting the guilt for this dreadful tragedy on the shoulders of a young girl. She didn't know what she was doing, they say; she was too young to understand the import of her actions, and we shouldn't hold her responsible. Well, it seems to me that this is completely beside the point. The novel, we finally learn, has been written by the girl herself. She's giving herself the blame for what happened. She's evidently spent her whole life wondering why she behaved the way she did, and she still doesn't really know. She's just trying to get the story as straight as she can, mainly so that she can understand it herself, and I found her efforts extremely moving. If anyone is claiming that people don't behave this way, all I can say is that their view of human nature is so different from mine that it'll be hard to have a meaningful conversation on the subject.

So now the second and more controversial part. Many reviewers dislike the post-modernist aspects. They complain that McEwan is taking a perverse pleasure in tricking the reader into a view of the story which is finally revealed as incorrect; that he's playing the unreliable narrator card out of sheer willfulness. Again, I completely disagree. I don't think these aspects of the book are irrelevant or peripheral; I think they're at the very core of it, and are what make it a great piece of literature. McEwan shows us a girl who becomes an author precisely because she wants to expiate the dreadful feelings of guilt she has suffered all her life. He lets her explain how it happened, in what we eventually discover is a book within a book. And the truly awful thing is that she can't do it. She cops out with a fake happy ending, because she still can't face what she did.

I don't think this is a trick; I think he's saying something about the very nature of writing. Many, many writers are like Briony. They write to absolve themselves of their guilt, but in the end they don't say what they want to say. It's too horrible to write down. They skirt around the issues, and end up presenting them in a more favourable light. If they're lucky, they may finally reach an age when they are so far removed from what happened that they can tell the story straight. This is what Briony does in the postscript, and I don't find it far-fetched. To take just one example, the first I happen to think of, look at Marguerite Duras. All her life, she kept thinking about her first love affair, and it coloured most of what she wrote. It was only when she was nearly 70 that she could set it down as L'Amant.

Before the events of the fountain, Briony was indeed just a little girl; all she could write was the amusingly mediocre Arabella. Afterwards, she had something that was worth saying, though it took a long time to figure out how to do that. When she'd completed her task, she was able to get back to the one she was engaged in when she was interrupted: I love the circular structure, which ends with Arabella being staged 60 years late. Of the many infuriating changes in the movie version, I think I was most annoyed by the removal of this key scene.

Wood burns, observes Monty Python's logician, as he gives an example of an incorrect syllogism; therefore, all that burns is wood. Similarly, the fact that much trickery is post-modern does not imply that all post-modernism is trickery. This is a great and heart-felt novel.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 4 books576 followers
November 19, 2007
In World War II England, 13-year-old Briony Tallis misinterprets her older sister’s love affair with their family’s gardener to be something much worse than what it is. Her innocence and partial understanding of the world begins a chain of events that tears the family apart and alters the course of the rest of the girl’s life.

Sounds a little dry, right? Wrong! I guess I forgot to mention that the book was written by Ian McEwan, the king of uncomfortable moments, weird sex stuff, the rotating third-person close perspective, and - I’ll say it! - writing about the human psyche. While I’ve found some of his earlier books to be a little too uncomfortable (or, rather, too uncomfortable without good reason) or a little too sexually deviant (again, in the way that it seemed for shock value than with a reason), this was a freaking great book.

I think the one thing that makes this book so wonderful is McEwan’s eerily accurate understanding of how a 13-year-old girl’s mind works - her understanding of the world and her emotional reaction to it. Briony is trapped between childhood and adulthood. She’s old enough to recognize the dark and startling behind-the-scenes facets of her proper British family’s life, but not old enough to properly analyze or judge them. She’s old enough to impose her will and her ideas on others, but not wise enough to know when to act or when to question herself. It’s a frustrating and fascination (and uncomfortable) time, and he has it down pat.

McEwan also experiments with structure in ways that are truly innovative and new without being gimmicky. Briony is an aspiring writer who grows and develops her style throughout the 60 years that the novel covers, and McEwan’s novel mirrors her literary growth. Part One of the story is extremely traditional (broken into chapters, with a clear rotation of perspectives and a uniform chronology). Parts Two and Three are much more modern - the story, which switches gears to follow the gardener into WWII France and Briony to her experiences as a nurse in London, loses structure and fluidity and uses more modern storytelling techniques. Finally, the last section is utterly contemporary - the story becomes even more abstract, with unreliable narrators and more conceptual writing favored over simple narrative.

And yet these games with structure and story and perspective in no way take your focus from the story and the characters. Instead, they add to the experience of watching the main character grow and develop.

If the book suffers from anything, it might be a little slow in some places and move too fast in others. Since McEwan tends to be very thorough when it comes to interior thought, the story often slows down a bit more than it should so that he can explain how every single person felt about a certain moment in time (although the story spans 60 years, the first 200 pages span a single afternoon and evening). The slow story a necessary evil, though, if we want to keep the detailed character studies in place. And we do. And the action-filled second half of the book, which covers the British retreat from the Germans in 1940 and the over-capacity army hospitals of London, makes up for the sometimes austere and rigorous first half. It just takes a while to get the story rolling.
Profile Image for Bart.
Author 1 book104 followers
September 13, 2007
That I can remember, I've never before disliked the start of a book so thoroughly, and by the end, gone on to think so much of it as a complete work.

The last 2/3 of this novel are as good as contemporary fiction gets. The first 1/3 is like reading a Jane Austen plot trapped in amber.

As the title indicates Atonement is about a future artist's massive effort to redeem herself for ruining the character of a young man when she is a younger girl. There are parts of this novel that are disjointed - or if they aren't they appear so because the opening act moves so slowly that one is barely conscious and later unable to recall that anything much happened at all.

Halfway through this novel, when its greatness starts to happen, a reader almost laments his earlier opinions of it. But whose fault is that? The beginning is such an act of endurance that the later parts make a reader wish that McEwan had moved things more quickly in the beginning - and used those words for more character development in the middle - so the reader could declare this novel, unequivocally, one of the five best novels he's ever read.

McEwan is at the top of the art form throughout, though, whatever a reader opines of the product. He knows what he's doing every step of the way, right down to an allusion to the disjointed narrative methods employed by Virginia Woolf.

The ending is brilliant, unexpected and harsh. But unlike the case of the returning Baxter character in the third act of Saturday, this ending is consistent and at once surprising and inevitable.

After a person has read a few hundred novels, he grasps the art form well enough to know when an author is writing - usually it's when the author's employing some top-heavy descriptive technique that makes the water droplets gathered on a rose petal somehow more important than the protagonist's motives for anything she's done to that point - and it fairly well cries out, "Look at me, my creator is a writer!"

Knowing when an author is writing means knowing that if there's a surprise coming, it's either going to be predicted about 50 pages out or done in such fantastically poor form that its inconsistency mars the rest of the work.

McEwan is fine enough at his craft that the ending is both unanticipated and perfectly consistent. That alone makes this novel excellent.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,385 followers
January 4, 2022
Atonement is a story of moral issues and the story is sad…
Here she was, offering a possibility of absolution. But it was not for him. He had done nothing wrong. It was for herself, for her own crime which her conscience could no longer bear. Was he supposed to feel grateful? And yes, of course, she was a child in 1935. He had told himself, he and Cecilia had told each other, over and again. Yes, she was just a child. But not every child sends a man to prison with a lie. Not every child is so purposeful and malign, so consistent over time, never wavering, never doubted. A child, but that had not stopped him daydreaming in his cell of her humiliation, of a dozen ways he might find revenge.

Does time revenge mistakes of childhood? Or does God?
Anyway if such errors lead to the ruination of lives revenge can’t be sweet…
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,296 reviews120k followers
February 11, 2021

Ian McEwan - image from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette - photo credit: Joost van den Broek

I was bored with this until half way through, but then it got interesting. It touches on imagination versus reality, fiction versus fact, in addition to the story content. A portrait of an upper middle class English family is interrupted by a supposed rape in which a young imaginative (vengeful) girl misidentifies the rapist. I found that it stayed with me and that I appreciated it more with time. The film, released in 2007. was a magnificent translation.

Links to the author’s personal and FB pages
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
August 27, 2021
Atonement, Ian McEwan

Atonement is a 2001 British metafiction novel written by Ian McEwan concerning the understanding of and responding to the need for personal atonement.

Set in three time periods, 1935 England, Second World War England and France, and present-day England, it covers an upper-class girl's half-innocent mistake that ruins lives, her adulthood in the shadow of that mistake, and a reflection on the nature of writing.

Abstract: On a summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment's flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant.

But Briony's incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions "Atonement" follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.

Characters: Briony Tallis, Emily Tallis, Cecilia Tallis, Leon Tallis, Lola Quincy, Jackson Quincy, Perriot Quincy, Paul Marshall, Robbie Turner.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز سی و یکم ماه مارس سال 2012میلادی

عنوان: «تاوان»؛ اثر: ایان مک اوان؛ مترجم: م‍ص‍طف‍ی‌ م‍ف‍ی‍دی‌؛ نشر تهران، گام نو‫، 1389، در 480ص؛ شابک 9789646917446؛ ‏چاپ دیگر: تهران، نیلوفر؛ 1390، در 437ص؛ شابک 9789644485213؛ موضوع: داستان‌های نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده 20م

رویدادهای «تاوان»، در سال‌های پس از جنگ جهانی دوم سپری، و در این میان به یادمانهای سال‌های جنگ نیز می‌پردازد؛ فيلمنامه «تاوان» را «کریستوفر همپتون»، از همین رمان به قلم «ايان مک اوان»، اقتباس کرده، رمانی که در سال 2001میلادی منتشر شد، و پس از قرار گرفتن در ل��ست پرفروشترینهای آن روز، به منزلت «مک اوان» افزود، و وی را در کنار «مارتین امیس» و «جولین بارنز»، به عنوان یکی از سه رمان نویس برتر، و زنده ی اهل «بریتانیا»، به خوانشگران شناساند

داستان دارای س�� بخش است؛

بخش نخست بلندترین بخش داستان است، این بخش خانواده ی اشرافی «تالیس» را، در سال 1935میلادی نشانه رفته؛ توسط «براینی»، دختر سیزده ساله ی خانواده، که عاشق نویسندگی است، بازگویی میشود؛ ای�� خانواده در انتظار رسیدن پسر خانواده یعنی «لئون»، و دوست او «مارشال» هستند؛ «براینی» برای پیشواز از برادرش، میخواهد نمایشنامه ای که خود آن را نگاشته، به همراه پسرعموها و دخترعموها اجرا کنند؛ او برای علاقه به داستان همگی رویدادهای پیرامون خود را با توجه به خیال خویش بازگو میکند

بخش دوم، در سال 1940میلادی، «رابی» با شهادت «براینی»، پس از سه سال، از زندان به شرط شرکت در جنگ، آزاد شده است؛ «سیسیلیا» دوره ی پرستاری را بگذرانده، و با خانواده خود رابطه ی خود را بریده است، این دو از راه نامه با یکدیگر در تماس هستند و «سیسیلیا» به «رابی» قول داده، در انتظار او بماند؛ در یایان این بخش «رابی» به همراه ارتش در «دانکرک» گرفتار شده، و دلمشغول عقب نشینی هستند

بخش سوم داستان، «براینی» در حال گذراندن دوره پرستاری، در بیمارستانی در «لندن» است؛ او حالا دریافته که «رابی» به دخترعمویش تجاوز کرده، و برای شهادت اشتباه خود، دچار عذاب وجدان شده است؛ از این روی تحصیل در دانشگاه را رها، و به تاوان اشتباهش پرستار شده؛ او در انتهای این بخش «رابی» و «سیسیلیا» را میبیند، که کنار یکدیگر زندگی میکنند، و به آنها قول میدهد که به جبران اشتباهی که مرتکب شده، به نزد خانواده برود، و شهادت خود را پس بگیرد؛ اما در پایان، داستان به گونه دیگری پیش میرود، و خوانشگر را شگفت زده میکند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 15/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 04/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,938 reviews428 followers
December 14, 2022
Read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC's Big Read Poll of 2003.

The cost of oblivious daydreaming was always this moment of return, the realignment with what had been before and now seemed a little worse.

In the heat of a 1930s Summer, a family reunites at their country home for what may be the last time. Cousins have come to stay, a sister has returned from University and a brother is returning from America with a new friend in tow. Briony, the only child left at home, is furiously writing a play to be performed, but what she witnesses-and is exposed to-will force her to make a decision that she will regret for the rest of her life.

This book reminded me strongly of Evelyn Waugh, though I think that's purely based on the surroundings and era (and mostly the house). Whilst Evelyn had a whimsical style to his writing, Ian McEwan is positively overflowing with flowery prose that leads nowhere and brings up memories of terrible books they made me read for college.

Atonement is a relatively easy read, if you can take so much description and little plot. None of the characters are anything except a piece of personality and don't go beyond their one trait and I felt nothing for all of them. They all had their one job and, whilst they did this one job well, that was that and there seemed nothing beyond their doing their one job.

We begin in a wonderful countryside house, which is described to death and the plot simmers along nicely. There's a play being written, and the cousins coming down from the North are being forced to act it out. There is youthful petulance, coming-of-age rebellion and adults avoiding responsibility and, in truth, the scene is set nicely in the first few pages. But then this setting of the scene continues for around half the rest of the book and it soon becomes clear that the plot is far away and we're not entirely sure if it'll be seen at all.

Setting the book during the war seemed like a pointless endeavour, if only to include some kind of treacherous battle scenes to add to the overall lack of drama up to this point. I suppose the book needed to be set somewhere and some time, but the overall affect was unimpressive. I found the whole thing lacking, in truth. The book, whilst it shifted to another city and even country, was just too small. Everything was cloying and felt like it was happening in one tiny bubble. I prefer big worlds and big plots, not just a single thread moving through a mire.

The main thing that irritated me about this book, is that it was full of needless cliffhangers that were seemingly pointless to anything except to expunge the pathetic attempt at a plot beyond the story arc. Nearly every chapter ended with something along the lines of "and oh my if this character hadn't done what he's about to do in the next chapter then his life would not have turned out the way it did", as if McEwan is unsure of his plot and needs to plead with us to keep reading. "What, what Ian, what's going to happen? I must must must read on if you say something interesting is coming along, because so far we haven't had much, have we, Sir?"

I am grateful, however, at the vague pleasure I got from the book as I read it that kindled within me a notion of the kinds of books I do and do not like. I feel, having read this book, that I could spot a book I dislike from the first few pages now, whereas before I'd probably have to get through it all just to know. So, of course, I will now not be wasting more hours on books that seemingly go nowhere, even after the first half, than I need to.
Profile Image for Lizzy.
305 reviews166 followers
February 19, 2019
The subject matter of Atonement is literature itself, but it is much more. First, the writer is one of its characters; second, because Ian McEwan’s novel creates a world where subjectivity and objectivity interfere mutually. The characters are full of life and the language, even if elaborate and subtle, does not go around or makes inroads into itself.

The narrator and protagonist, Briony Tallis, emerges in the beginner as a pre-adolescent that dreams to arrange the world in her texts, as in the play she is writing. Her love for order, for the careful design according to her spoiled desires, is translated into an impulse to write that hardly depend on the theme.

“There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive. It wasn't only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding, above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have.”

Her cousins, Lola, and the twins will be the actors, with which she plans to awe the assembled family, that include her parents, her older sister Cecily and the son of the housekeeper, Robbie. On that day of 1935, Briony sees Cecily and Robbie in a game that culminates in a fateful scene. Briony believes she sees something that profoundly perturbs her. The development of the story doesn’t let the reader stop. When, later, Lola is raped by a man that was not seen, Briony, without any grounds, makes a ‘deduction’ of who committed the crime.

Here we are, therefore, in the territory of Jane Austen, cited in the epigraph, or Henry James, George Eliot, and many other English authors: social tension versus sexual stress, pride and prejudice conflicts, mere misunderstandings that adopt dramatic dimensions. McEwan considers the simple distortions that physical acts, such as vision, can suffer when clouded by moral bias. Briony is attracted to Robbie and envies in Cecily her independence and, and in her anxiety to wipe out her shortcomings recreates the world in her own way, succumbing to prejudice and threatening her already reduced capacity to accept reality.

But, more than that, what McEwan shows is how a writer can worsen weaknesses such as vanity, cowardice and credulity, sentiments that derive from the solitary and fallible condition that is above all human. Briony, with an absent father, a sick mother, a distant brother and an adult sister, fills her solitude with words that want to arrange everything, as she organizes her room.

“But hidden drawers, lockable diaries and cryptographic systems could not conceal from Briony the simple truth: she had no secrets. Her wish for a harmonious, organised world denied her the reckless possibilities of wrongdoing. Mayhem and destruction were too chaotic for her tastes, and she did not have it in her to be cruel. Her effective status as an only child, as well as the relative isolation of the Tallis house, kept her, at least during the long summer holidays, from girlish intrigues with friends. Nothing in her life was sufficiently interesting or shameful to merit hiding; no one knew about the squirrel's skull beneath her bed, but no one wanted to know.”

She is emotionally deprived as all of us, but a few degrees above the Richer scale: her need to be praised, her inability to deal with her environment, her surrendering to a fantasy of perfection – it is as if she were an immature child, seeking protection from life itself.

However, the novel goes beyond an intimate recounting. In the second half, McEwan throws the reader into the Second World War, with memorable descriptions of the United Kingdom’s empire ultimate whisper at the battle of Dunkirk. McEwan uses this as background to show us Robbie’s feelings. Among dead and wounded, he drifts with his head down and wrapped in his own sentiments to protect himself and to dream he will be exonerated for having survived in a battle where so many had died.
“Now he reduced his progress to the rhythm of his boots -- he walked across the land until he came to the sea. Everything that impeded him had to be outweighed, even if only by a fraction, by all that drove him on. ...He knew by heart certain passages from her letters, he had revisited their tussle with the vase by the fountain, he remembered the warmth from her arm at the dinner when the twins went missing. These memories sustained him, but not so easily.”
But what rots and sustains him is his hate for Briony:
“In that shrinking moment he discovered that he had never hated anyone until now. It was a feeling as pure as love, but dispassionate and icily rational.”
Above everything:
“Let his name be cleared and everyone else adjust their thinking. He had put in time, now they must do the work. His business was simple. Find Cecilia and love her, marry her and live without shame.”
The ability of McEwan is very well known, but in Atonement he arrived were he had not reached before and where few living authors – maybe Coetzee, Philip Roth and a few others – were able to arrive. The force of his narrative comes from its plot and its magnitude as well as from its richness and structure. The story is strong, but who narrates is not subservient to its hierarchy and its rhythm: it’s a subject that lets it flow and, at the same time, chooses the moments and the way to reveal its parts. McEwan does not need to resort to fragmentation and mysticism to deal with the battle between affection and speech, tolerance and freedom, a clash so in evidence nowadays.
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,201 reviews40.7k followers
December 2, 2021
Wow! I will embarrassedly share a personal secret. Actually it’s not personal! It’s about the actress and the bloody intense movie adaptation of this book. I am a big fan of charming Scottish Mr. McAvoy (In my opinion not Idi Amin but he’s the real king of Scotland!) so after watching so young but intimidating Saoirse Ronan as thirteen years old Briony Tallis and witnessed how she ruined her own sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley ) and Robbie ( played by magnificent McAvoy) the son of the servant, I started detesting the guts of that actress with every bone in my body!

After years I kept booing her at the theaters as soon as her frozen blue eyes appeared on the screen and I got kicked out from theaters! ( being thrown away like a garbage didn’t hurt my feelings but not watching the entire Lady Bird and Little Women adaptation of Greta Gerwig truly ached my heart! )

Good things about this predicament: Even she was 13, Saoirse freaking Ronan was brilliant actress and the story of the book is heart wrenching, extra powerful and remarkable! It definitely broke my heart into tiny little pieces.

I skipped to read it for years because I knew deep in my heart the story would hurt me more when I got aged and just a little turned into a wiser woman.

But here I am, pulling out the band-aid! I got truly lost my mind in this remarkable journey which sets in three different time periods: 1935 England , during the time of Second World War between England and France and present England!

We’re introduced to thirteen year old Briony who witnesses her sister Cecilia and servant’s boy Robin’s flirtation which make her intrigued and jealous as well. Her reading wrongly of the actions and her misjudgment bring out a crime and ruins people’s lives!

I know she was just a young, naive, innocent girl but she paid throughout her life because one mistake she’s made!

That was the worst punishment to keep thinking about everything you’ve made differently through your entire life and putting this burden to young kid’s shoulder was a little cruel choice but that’s what makes the reading journey more angsty, emotional and effective!

I’m so happy to read the book and I’m so happy to make peace with Briony’s character as well! And I’m so relieved that I’m not gonna need to curse Saoirse Ronan when I see her face at the big screen!

Best quotes of the book:
“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.”

“The cost of oblivious daydreaming was always this moment of return, the realignment with what had been before and now seemed a little worse.”

“...falling in love could be achieved in a single word- a glance.”

“And though you think the world is at your feet, it can rise you up and tread on you.”

“How guilt refined the methods of self-torture, threading the beads of detail into an eternal loop, a rosary to be fingered for a lifetime.”

“But what really happened? The answer is simple: the lovers survive and flourish.”
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,301 followers
April 27, 2023
O fată de 13 ani, Briony Tallis, comite un păcat: mărturisește strîmb la un proces (vrea să se înșele și e ajutată să se înșele). Din cauza ei un tînăr, Robbie Turner, ajunge în închisoare (deși nu are nici o vină) și, de acolo, în război unde este rănit, face o septicemie și moare / nu moare. Briony distruge viața tînărului și pe a surorii sale, Cecilia. Își înțelege într-un tîrziu greșeala: nu există cale de întoarcere, timpul nu poate fi dat înapoi. Nimeni nu e în stare să rescrie istoria, nici măcar Dumnezeu. Pentru fapta ei, nu există iertare. Își va alege singură pedeapsa. Și va ispăși. Se angajează într-un spital ca infirmieră și îngrijește răniții. Povestea e captivantă prin dezbaterea morală.

Din păcate, Ian McEvan s-a gîndit să complice trama romanului, sugerînd în Epilog (cînd Briony e bătrînă și în pragul sfîrșitului) că, de fapt, povestea nu-i aparține. Ian McEwan e doar un editor. A fost redactată de Briony Tallis și tot ce am citit ține de pura ei imaginație. Nimic nu s-a petrecut întocmai. Briony a propus o istorie posibilă. Dar întîmplările și deznodămîntul ar fi putut fi diferite. Dacă ar fi vrut, l-ar fi salvat pe Robbie Turner și l-ar fi căsătorit cu Cecilia (cei doi ar fi trăit fericiți pînă la adînci bătrîneți). În definitiv, istoria poate fi rescrisă. Și poate fi rescrisă, după voie și plac, pentru că e o fantezie a lui Briony.

Ceea ce nu mi-a plăcut în Ispășire, pentru că e un truc narativ uzat, a fost tocmai discuția din final despre relația dintre adevăr și ficțiune. Trucul e vechi, mai vechi decît Gide cu Falsificatorii de bani, mai vechi decît Laurence Sterne. L-am întîlnit și în Schimb de dame de David Lodge. Naratorul ne trage de mînecă și ne spune ironic-batjocoritor: „Asta e invenția mea și, dacă am chef, pot s-o modific cînd vreau. Nu vă lăsați mințiți, e vorba pur și simplu de o farsă”.

Trucul menționat mai sus contrazice principiul exprimat, în 1817, de Samuel Taylor Coleridge prin expresia „suspension of disbelief”: suspendarea neîncrederii. În timpul lecturii, între povestitor și cititor se instituie un pact: povestitorul narează o întîmplare (sau un șir de întîmplări) și cititorul îl crede pe cuvînt. Povestitorul încearcă de la început și pînă în final să fie verosimil. Prozatorii din anii 70 și 80 ai secolului trecut au încălcat sistematic pactul și au introdus naratori, personaje, mesageri care atrag atenția cititorului (cînd îi e lumea mai dragă) că e vorba, în realitate, de o simplă ficțiune și că nu trebuie să se lase amăgit.

Nu știu alții cum gîndesc, dar eu simt că un astfel de avertisment îmi știrbește plăcerea lecturii. Cînd parcurg un roman (deși sînt perfect conștient că este o ficțiune), vreau să fiu mințit. Nu am nevoie de cineva care să-mi semnaleze, din 5 în 5 pagini, faptul că citesc o poveste inventată, care s-ar putea desfășura și altfel...

Un mic extras: „Știu că există un tip de cititor care nu poate răbda să nu întrebe: dar ce s-a întîmplat cu adevărat?... Cum poate romanciera să dobîndească mîntuirea cînd, cu puterea ei absolută de a decide finalurile, ea este și Dumnezeu?... Nu există nimic în afara ei. Ea a stabilit, prin puterea imaginației, limitele și termenii” (p.426).

P. S. Cu ani în urmă, The Guardian a făcut o anchetă literară la care a convocat 150 de „judecători” înțelepți (scriitori, academici, critici literari). Redactorii publicației i-au întrebat neted care e cel mai bun roman scris în engleză în intervalul 1980 - 2005. Pe listă n-au intrat prozatorii americani, pentru că ei participaseră deja la o anchetă similară, inițiată de The New York Times (ceva mai devreme) unde ieșise biruitoare, nu mă îndoiesc că știți, Toni Morrison cu The Beloved (Multiubita, Preaiubita), roman tradus acum cîțiva ani la Editura ART. Deci, The Guardian a inițiat o anchetă separată pentru prozatorii de limbă engleză non-americani. Ierarhia a fost următoarea. Pe primul loc s-a situat sud-africanul J. M. Coetzee cu romanul Disgrace (Dezonoare). Un roman bun, dar care nu m-a strivit. Pe locul doi a ajuns, prin voința înțelepților, Martin Amis sau, mai precis, romanul lui, Banii. Al treilea a ieșit Ian McEvan cu Atonement.
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,397 followers
June 3, 2021
A lesson to us all: never put anything in print that one day might come back to bite you in the ass.

Having already seen the movie, I didn't particularly want to read the book (I've never read Mario Puzo's The Godfather, now have I?), but seeing as this book is a modern great, I felt it my duty to drag it from my book cave.
Pleasingly, McEwan writes with aplomb about the human psyche: of lust, loathing, immaturity and guilt; his prose is word perfect.
That said, the novel suffers from its own identity crisis, a mezze of Jane Austen, followed by a main course of Sebastian Faulks.
The author's genius, though, is in causing us to forget that his book was actually written in the modern day. Very clever!
One of our protagonists, Robbie, puts his lustful thoughts to paper in a way that would merely seem vulgarly juvenile in a modern-day text message: Been dreamin' bout kissing your c**t, yeah?
But when inscribed in ink, onto 1930s vellum stationery, the "C" word is both shocking and ruinous.

There is no doubt that McEwan is one of Britain's greatest literary gods, his beautiful prose had me purrrring with delight ... Ah, but here's the thing...

The story.
Nnnng, grmmmphh!
Oh, it just didn't keep me enthralled.
There, I've said it!
In addition, I have my own crazy theory that Briony might just be the author's imagined avatar of his younger self. : )

5 out of 5 for the writing.
3 out of 5 for the story.
Profile Image for Allison.
23 reviews
January 23, 2008
I feel that perhaps I have sabotaged this book somewhat as I read it directly after finishing Love In the Time of Cholera, and perhaps in retrospect should have read a poetry book or some non-fiction in between. Clearly anything I would have read after finishing a Masterpiece would pale in comparison but I decided that the critical raves this book had received and high praise from people around me should be enough to encourage me to see it through to the end.

Here is why I found this book lacking without giving too much actual plot away to those who would want to read it themselves.

I found all of the characters completely devoid of any true personality or any reason I should care or feel connected to them. The details described in the book do a lot for physical surroundings but we know nothing of Cecila except she went to college and chain smokes, so I don't particularly care about anything that happens to her, besides the fact that much of her life is lived outside what information the book provides. Briony is a terrible child, a narcissistic teenager, and and at last a harmless grandmother who I don't especially care about at any of these three points in her life. The only character with the least bit of humanity seems to be Robbie who is still somewhat confined to his role as the "victim". All the lovely descriptions of ponds and hospital wards and French war-torn villages could not make up for the fact that none of these characters were the slightest bit interesting to me or seemed to connect to anything. They simply floated through long locational descriptions being powerless to the world around them and unfortunately for me I didn't need 350 pages to get that point. It could have easily been accomplished as a short story or novella. I just kept feeling that the book had all this great detail but didn't focus it on anything that it shoud have.

I know this may sound exceedingly harsh and once again I do chalk some of this up to reading Atonement directly after a much better novel it had no hope in eclipsing or even paralleling in its structure but I also know how quickly and easily I fall in love with characters. How quickly I can get pulled into a good story and I sincerely feel that although I wouldn't call this book a complete waste, that my time would have been much better spent elsewhere.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,560 reviews859 followers
May 26, 2022
It's 1935, and 13 year old Bryony has a traumatic day that will eventually impact on her sister, her sister's first lover, and Bryony's entire extended family for the next 65 years! An awesome book, one of the best McEwan's I have read, encompassing the horrors of World War II at home and abroad; McEwan looks at what Bryony can and cannot do as atonement for her fateful actions on that day in 1935. I don't need to watch the film, the book has given me everything! 8 out of 12.

2011 read
Profile Image for Terry.
85 reviews21 followers
January 12, 2008
This is where a 2.5 star rating would be ideal. I am extremely ambivalent about this novel--first the pluses: the writing is gorgeous; McEwan has some of the best prose out there. Every line has meat to it, nothing is throwaway, and every visual is so vivid that the reader is transported to a specific time and place. Secondly, (what everyone praises the novel for), the commentary McEwan is making about the novel itself--the fact that it is written, that characters and plots are manipulated by the author, and how a real character emerges (eventually) while at the same a written story exists too. This is very difficult to write about without revealing anything about the plot, but as one reads the novel, it becomes clear what McEwan is trying to do. Finally, the references to other literature (including some of the best novels--Clarissa, Lolita--and novelists--Elizabeth Bowen is directly mentioned, Henry Green and Virginia Woolf are obvious influences) is fluid, never forced, and is done to showcase a love of literature.
At the same time, there are downsides to McEwan's endeavor--how to write a novel that is commenting on its obvious falsity (its construction as fiction), while at the same time trying to convey reality. This is perhaps an impossible task, and I'm left with the nagging feeling that the novel wants to have its cake and eat it too. The characters and situations are so obviously phony that it becomes distracting in the first part of the story. I was drawn in by the fantastic writing, but then found myself wanting to hurl the novel across the room at some of the ridiculous choices by both the characters and the novelist. Namely: 1) The main plot twist makes little realistic sense. Absolutely zero would fly in a mystery novel let alone real life; 2) The characters in the first part are boring aristocrats who we don't care about (check out a Henry Green novel; except in his novels, the reader continues to laugh at them, there is no attempt at emotional attachment); 3) The 'mystery's' solution is obvious to the reader before the crime even happens; 4) Briony (part 1) is an insufferable narrator (as kid narrators, To Kill a Mockingbird excluded, so often are); 5) The novelist's choice to name a sexually, precocious teenager 'Lola' (too obvious a reference). But these choices are meant to be ridiculous--reality is only supposed to set in in the epilogue. At the same time, I marveled at how real parts 2 (Robbie at war) and 3 (Briony as a nurse--some of the hospital scenes are the best I've ever read) seemed to be. Then the question became for me--if they seemed real because of the way the scenes were written (the gore again in the hospital), but could not have been real because the characters and overall plot of the Tallis family are so fake, isn't that cheating? I haven't reached a conclusion yet, but something is still bugging me about the conception of it. Ultimately I prefer novels that go the opposite route--Paul Auster's Oracle Night for example--that start out real and quickly become fake, or throw out the idea of a realistic, consistent plot entirely (only in the conclusion does David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas come together), rather than the never-ending 'is it real? is it fake?' push-and-pull of Atonement.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,652 followers
October 2, 2017
What a lovely reread this was! I first read this novel almost a decade ago, and the story has stayed with me. The prose is gorgeous, and again I was completely absorbed in this novel.

My favorite character is Briony, the young writer seeking atonement for a mistake she made as a child. And my heart aches for her sister, Cecilia, and her wronged lover, Robbie. I've only read a few of McEwan's books, but I like his writing style so much I want to read more. Highly recommended.

Favorite Quotes
"Was everyone else really as alive as she was?... If the answer was yes, then the world, the social world, was unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone’s thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone’s claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was. One could drown in irrelevance."

"There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive. It wasn't only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding, above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have."

"At that moment, the urge to be writing was stronger than any notion she had of what she might write."

"From this new and intimate perspective, she learned a simple, obvious thing she had always known, and everyone knew; that a person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn, not easily mended."
Profile Image for Martine.
145 reviews668 followers
February 16, 2008
Having recently seen and loved the magnificent film adaptation, I decided to reread Atonement, which quite impressed me when it was first published. And guess what? It was an even more rewarding experience the second time around. Knowing what was coming -- knowing the plot twist at the end -- helped me focus on the quality of the writing rather than on the development of the story, and as always, McEwan's prose completely sucked me in. He is, quite simply, one of the most talented authors alive, and he uses his gift to great effect here.

I'm not really going to go into the plot here, because the less the first-time reader knows about the book, the better. Suffice it to say that it is about an imaginative thirteen-year-old who witnesses a few things she doesn't understand, draws the wrong conclusions and ends up ruining the lives of two people near and dear to her. The first half of the book deals with the event itself and the hours leading up to it; the second half deals with her attempts to, well, deal with it -- atone for it, so to speak.

As always, McEwan excels at setting the scene. His description of a hot summer afternoon in a 1935 English country house is lush and sumptuous, his evocation of a young soldier's struggle to reach home after the disastrous 1940 battle of Dunkirk is haunting, and his look into the horrors of a war-time London hospital is gruesome in all its detail. Amazingly, McEwan manages to find beauty even in the most horrific scenes, which is one of the things which set him apart as a writer. As usual, though, it's the psychological stuff that is really outstanding. McEwan has a knack for taking his readers deep into his characters' minds, letting them share their most intimate, most uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Sometimes these thoughts are a little disturbing (those of you who have read his earlier works will know what I mean), but usually they have the effect of completely drawing the reader into the story. The latter is definitely the case in Atonement. By presenting the story from different perspectives and vantage points, McEwan provides the reader with a complete and engrossing view of a life-changing event and its aftermath. All the different perspectives ring true, and together they tell a marvellous tale of perception, loyalty, anger, secrets, lost love, shame, guilt, obsession with the past and -- yes -- atonement. And about writing, for more than anything else, Atonement is about the difference between fiction and reality, the power of the imagination and the human urge to write and rewrite history -- to write destiny and play God.

I've heard quite a few people say that they found the first half of the novel too slow and ponderous, wondering why McEwan felt the need to devote nearly two hundred pages to the events of a single day. Personally, I found that part of the book to be utterly brilliant in its rich, Woolf-like glory. As far as I'm concerned, the atmosphere of the first half is superbly drawn, with each character down to the most minor one being well realised and the tensions and suspense at work almost being made tangible. For me, it is the second half of the book which has problems (albeit minor ones), in that I found the jumps in time and perspective jarring and the (otherwise fascinating) chapter about Robbie's adventures in France somewhat unreal. Of course, there are good reasons for the slightly unreal quality of the Dunkirk chapter (which the film captured just brilliantly), but still, it didn't quite work for me; it felt a bit out of place. Thankfully, though, the rest of the book worked just wonderfully for me. Like other McEwan books, it left me with a haunting question -- 'What if...?'

As for McEwan's impressive insight into the mind of a thirteen-year-old girl, which other reviewers have called scary, I think that has everything to do with Briony's being a writer. She is hardly your average thirteen-year-old (I think even McEwan would have a hard time coming up with one of those!); rather she is a writer (a good one), and that, of course, is something McEwan knows all about. As a fellow writer, I greatly enjoyed seeing the world through Briony's eyes, and hope her author will live to her old age and write as many good books as he has her doing.
Profile Image for Nicole.
444 reviews13.4k followers
August 23, 2021

Czułam, że to nie będzie książka dla mnie. Nie ze względu na fabułę, ale styl autora, który dla mnie jest niepotrzebnie dokładny i momentami chaotyczny.
Kilka minusów:
Beznamiętnie określenie relacji bohaterów i rozwinięcie osobowości tylko kilku z nich.
Niepotrzebne zabiegi cliffhangerowe, przez które nawet sama nie wiedziałam czy powinnam się domyślać tego co jest oczywiste, czy nie.
Nagły obrót sytuacji i przeniesienie nas w wojenny dokument, pełen opisów ran i zapachów tychże ran. Mam wrażenie, że to nie rozwinęło żadnej ścieżki i było po prostu wciśnięte na siłę
Najgorsze z tego wszystkiego było zakończenie, które dla mnie było pozbawione emocji. Aż się cieszyłam, że to był już koniec tego (krótkiego) audiobooka.
Styl autora nie dla mnie, bo pewnie gdybym poznała tę historię w inny sposób (chociażby oglądając wcześniej film) to podobałaby mi się nieco bardziej.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews1,132 followers
January 31, 2017
Ah, to be young and bookish and to hate your status as a child… To want to be part of the grown-ups' world, to want to understand their strange actions and their esoteric social codes, which seem so mysterious and sophisticated… As we get older we often realize that none of this is quite as glamorous as we had imagined, and the rear-view mirror of memory can give new meanings to events we thought we understood so well in our youth…

Briony is the youngest child of rather comfortable British family, between the two World Wars. One hot summer afternoon, when cousins and a friend of her older brother Leon's are visiting, a strange series of events will change Briony's life. She will witness a mysterious scene between her older sister Cecilia and their housekeeper's son, Robbie; her thirteen years old eyes will interpret their interaction and the following events very differently from what actually happened and by the end of that day, nothing will ever be the same… From there on, we follow Robbie and Cecilia's story, as they deal with the consequences of Briony's not-so-innocent mistake, and with the young girl's long and excruciating journey for forgiveness.

I am late on the band-wagon, as usual, and this is my first McEwan novel. And now I am kicking myself for not having checked this book out sooner. His prose is lush with gorgeous images and sensations - I found myself reading slower than usual to make the pleasure last a little bit longer. The characterization is amazing, as we get under every character's skin, explore their thoughts, what haunts and motivates them - and it is captivating! McEwan's mastery of language blew me away, as did his use of symbolism and clever narrative structure. A story about a mistake in judgement could never be told from a single point of view, it has to be explored from many angles, and he handled that with incredible skill.

What Briony does is a thoughtless act motivated by a whirlwind of immature feelings: jealousy, a need for attention, wanting to be taken seriously and feel "worldly", the budding fascination (and paradoxical repulsion) with sexuality that every young girl experiences... I've read many reviews that mention how much they hated her and how petty and selfish she was; have these readers ever met thirteen year old girls?! They are generally insufferable precisely because they are at that horribly awkward stage of growing up. Being a little girl doesn't work anymore, but no one treats them like adults either, so they are unpredictable and they act out. I am by no means excusing Briony's spiteful reaction; as the title of the book implies, she will spend the rest of her life paying for her mistake it in guilt and regret. What I am saying is how realistic I think she is; I didn't like her one bit, but I believed in her completely.

I am not a big love story fan, because I think most people can't write them up in any kind of honest and realistic way. Most people write about love-at-first sight or obsessive lust and neither of these things are love the way real people experience it, so I avoid books labeled as romances like the plague. I can count on the fingers of one hand the love stories I actually felt invested in, and Robbie and Cecilia's story is one of them. This is impressive given the fact that they are each other's first and only love, something I am usually very skeptical of. I was very moved by their devotion and how they give each other a reason to carry on in some of history's darkest days. I read the second half of this book with a lump in my throat, wondering what was wrong with me. In the end, I realized that nothing is wrong with me: McEwan is just fucking brilliant.

Cecilia is spoiled, but she turns out to have more character and inner strength than the rest of her family put together. Her faith in Robbie and her unwavering loyalty to him made her one of the greatest romantic heroines I've encountered in literature. As for Robbie, I couldn't help but admire his pride, his resilience and his fair-mindedness. For someone with such a bright and promising future to be disgraced and ruined the way he is would be tragic in and of itself, but the dignity with which he keeps moving and never gives up on his ultimate goal (to "live without shame": what a line!) made me root for him with my whole heart.

The ending made a lot of people angry, apparently, but I loved it. It made the heartbreaking parts of the story even more crushing and while we see that Briony can never really make peace with herself, she gave peace back to those she hurt the only way she could figure out how. I found that incredibly moving. Writing is a form of therapy to many writers: it's a way to talk about the things that linger on your mind without really talking about them exorcise demons, right wrongs and create a better world. This novel made me want to start writing again.

This was a wonderful and rewarding read, a rich mix of Austen, Forster, Waugh and Woolf, and I loved every word of it so much more than I could have anticipated. I saw the movie, and while I often can't stand the sight of Keira Knightley, I do think that she was a perfect Cecilia, and that the movie was a flawless adaptation that perfectly captured the tone of McEwan's writing. 5 very bright stars and a spot of my "favorites" shelf.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,829 followers
May 27, 2016
In life, we all make mistakes. Some big, some small, but usually we quickly forget them. But what happens when you make a mistake that haunts you every day and you can do nothing about it?

This book was fantastic. I loved the writing. I loved the characters. They were so well developed I could feel their emotions in myself as I read. I was deeply and truly satisfied by the story and the writing. When I closed the book after the last page I felt like I was sitting back after finishing an amazing meal.

Read this! It is going up on my favorites shelf!
Profile Image for Beatriz.
831 reviews706 followers
May 12, 2020
Perfecto… simplemente perfecto. Ni siquiera sé cómo armar mi reseña de tal forma de transmitir todo lo que me ha provocado este libro, pero vamos a intentarlo.

En primer lugar, la prosa de Ian McEwan es bellísima, te seduce y te transporta con sus descripciones a cada uno de los lugares que utiliza como telón de fondo, te mete en la mente de sus complejos personajes de tal forma que es imposible no comprender (no necesariamente justificar) su comportamiento y su actuar en cada una de las situaciones que se presentan. La cantidad de interpretaciones que es posible hacer es enorme, y tengo certeza de que aumentarían con futuras relecturas.

La estructura de la novela no es convencional; se divide en tres partes y un epílogo, separadas entre sí por diferentes períodos de tiempo y distintos escenarios. Se caracterizan porque todas transcurren en apenas dos días, salvo la tercera, aunque el nudo de lo que cuenta también transcurre en dos días. A pesar de lo anterior, el relato está tan bien armado que en cada parte es posible expandir los hechos para obtener un panorama completo de todas las aristas que rodean el conflicto principal: una mentira y sus terribles consecuencias, algo impensable e irreparable que destruyó el destino de personas queridas. Una muestra de cómo nuestros actos a veces afectan la vida de los demás de manera que no alcanzamos siquiera a imaginar.

Otra sensación que me deja es cómo pequeñas cosas o decisiones pueden tener repercusiones tan devastadoras. Me quedo con un montón de ¿y si no?: y si Robbie no hubiera escrito la carta, y si no lo hubieran invitado a cenar, y si no se hubiera suspendido la representación de la obra, y si los primos no hubieran realizado su travesura......

El epílogo es de lujo y da un giro completo a lo leído en las dos últimas partes, justificando completamente el título de esta obra maestra: la verdadera expiación de Briony Tallis.

Reto #42 PopSugar 2019: Dos libros que compartan el mismo título (1)
Profile Image for Angi M.
120 reviews10 followers
February 11, 2008
**WARNING: Don't read this if you don't want the ending spoiled!**

This book...I hate it! It's beautiful, every word of it is gorgeous, but it's as if the author spends all this time painstakingly crafting a really detailed, intricate vessel for you (I'm thinking of a boat :))and then just before your journey's over he snatches it out from under you & you sink. Why go to such lengths describing the lovers, and the war, and Briony & the nursing when in the end none of it even matters? The problem with Atonement is that there is no atonement, which, of course, is the point. This book was described to me as 'haunting' and it definitely is- haunting & depressing. A story doesn't have to have a happy ending to be good, I mean, this is a great book, really, but I felt really empty & hollow when it was over. The part at the end when the author says that the story is the only part that matters b/c no one will ever remember the real people or the actual events anyway was crushing! It's true, I know, and I don't really have a problem w/ realism...but I have a big problem with death. It freaks me out. I have a really unhealthy fear of it. Especially unjust death. It just pisses me off more than I can explain. Maybe I've just been feeling too poetic lately, listening to too much sensitive-artist music, but I can't stand that Briony kills 2 people and then just conjures them back up from the dead as if it never happened and no one else even mentions it. It makes me think too much about actual events, politics, & things. I don't want to run out of time, I have things I want to do here, and I don't want to be reminded that the truth is it doesn't matter whether I run out of time or not because eventually there isn't going to be anyone left who ever knew me, or my family, or anyone we ever knew. Ugh. I'm making myself sick w/ this. I'm told the movie is really good b/c it's beautiful w/out being quite as harsh at the end. I think I need to see it so I can stop thinking about the book. It's waking me up at night, or rather it's waking me up in the morning realizing that I've been thinking about it all night. I hate it, but it really is good.
Profile Image for Julie G .
883 reviews2,749 followers
April 4, 2017
What a strange and powerful novel, one that begins its story with a quote from Jane Austen's Northanger Abby.

Why? Because Ms. Austen was the master of comparing the controlled, domestic world of the home with that of the chaotic, spontaneous world of the outside, the unknown.

Mirroring this idea, the self-centered 13-year-old Briony Tallis wonders early in McEwan's story, "Was that really all there was in life, indoors or out?"

Yes, Briony, that's all there really is. Oh, except one more thing. . . the interiors and exteriors of people, too. The reality and the mask. The private and the public. Who we are, versus who people think we are.

Oops, and one more thing. . . "It wasn't only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you."

Okay, so let's get this straight. Life is about the world within and the world without, confusion regarding the perceived "safety" of home and the "threat" of the outside world, and the dangerous assumptions we can make about people and their potentially devastating outcomes.

And what's war? Well, you know that already. War is hell. But isn't it also the biggest metaphor for the "outside world" and all of its worries? Doesn't war also serve to remind you that you're not always safe in your home? Of course! It can threaten your domesticity, render you homeless, and cause you to desire, above all else, the safe return to home.

Ah, home sweet home. But what about that bad stuff that sometimes goes on upstairs with bad people that you thought were good? And how often are our perspectives aligned with the truth?

You won't have any better answers to these questions after reading this book, but you'll have thought a whole lot more about "a wild race of men from a terrible world."
Profile Image for Michela De Bartolo.
163 reviews54 followers
April 15, 2018
“Tutto ciò che voleva era lavorare, fare un bagno e dormire, finché non fosse stata ora di lavorare di nuovo. Ma era inutile, lo sapeva bene. Per quanto sgobbasse, per quanto umile fosse il lavoro che svolgeva, e per quanto zelo e fatica ci mettesse, per quanto avesse rinunciato a chissà quali illuminazioni intellettuali, a chissà quali insuperabili momenti sul prato di un college, non sarebbe mai riuscita a rimediare al danno. Lei era imperdonabile”.

A dispetto del titolo, non c'è nessuna Espiazione.
Non esiste alcuna possibilità di un rimediare a determinati errori.
Non esiste "perdono"...né da parte di chi ha subito, né da parte di chi è stato causa di tanto dolore, di sconvolgimento, di distruzione.
"Perdonarsi" è ancora più difficile che perdonare...si può convivere con i sensi di colpa, si può diventare bravissimi a sopportarne il peso, ci si può fingere distratti, occupati, perfino accidentalmente felici, ma il mostro è sempre lì, insediato tra le pieghe della tua pelle.
Una trama intensa , a tratti commovente , gli
affreschi psicologici e relazionali dei protagonisti mirabilmente descritti , e la figura di Briony, artista poliedrica e camaleontica che vive un duplice tormento interiore , la propria colpa , ed il cercare di espiarla .
McEwan mi ha fatto riflettere, in maniera brutale. Ma non potevo negare quello che con le sue parole stampate mi diceva: siamo capaci di trasformarci in veri e propri mostri. Capaci di errori madornali; errori come quelli di Briony, gravi eppure così piccoli se paragonati al supremo errore della guerra, ma che lasciano i loro strascichi lungo tutta una vita.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,049 followers
March 7, 2016
Atonement is a post-modernist interpretation of historical fiction. How historical fiction is a kind of double fiction, a fiction within a fiction. Not that McEwan’s intellectual mischief detracts from his gift for storytelling. For this is a compelling and moving story and it’s not until the end that we are called upon to question the roots of storytelling. How all the stories we tell require a measure of illusion to sustain them. And how narrative itself is a selective process – brilliantly exposed here when Robbie sends the wrong letter to Cecelia.
The atmospheric ideal drift of life on a country estate replete with overly familial class divisions quotes early/middle 20th century historical fiction themes with a slightly troubling fidelity to clichéd tropes. For a while it’s almost as if McEwan has gone soft in his old age. But it’s as if he is working his way through 20th century British literature in this novel whose subject, beneath the ostensible one of guilt and atonement, is essentially narrative itself. To the clichéd backdrop of the country estate he brings in Virginia Woolf’s floating impressionistic technique of creating biography, Lawrence’s use of the repressed sex instinct as plot crucible and catalyst and Forster’s showdown moment in the Maribor cave when deep seated submerged prejudice and crowd contagion convince everyone of guilt. It’s almost as if McEwan is playfully writing himself into British literary history.

The second part is all gritty realism – a high definition account of the brutalities of war. One effect of war is to scramble formerly sustaining narratives. This is what happens to both Robbie and Briony. His experience of blame and hers of guilt change. War provides Briony with the possibility of atonement in the form of self-sacrifice and bullies Robbie into understanding that holding one individual to account for his wretched fate is absurd. Both begin to construct a new narrative, no more true perhaps than the former. Because this is a novel about the enormous power but, at bottom, creative inauthenticity of narrative. We believe in what it is necessary for us to believe.
5 reviews3 followers
July 4, 2013
Why, in a book containing violent rape, is the narrative preoccupied with condemning a young girl whose only crime was accusing the wrong man? Why, in a book containing violent rape, does the prose constantly refer to the girl's error as a "crime" and a "sin," as if it rose to the level of the rape itself? Why, in a book where two characters are fully cognizant of the rapist's identity (the rapist and his victim), is the girl with only partial knowledge raked over the coals for sending an innocent man to jail?

Then there are the strains on credulity: What kind of young woman believes the charlady's son over her own 13-year-old sister? What kind of young woman disowns her family for an accused rapist and remains faithful to him for years on the basis of a single romp in the library? What kind of young woman in the 1930s receives a note about her c*nt and finds it charming? (Plausible alternatives: "creepy" and "f*cking creepy.")

Why does this book turn into a war documentary halfway through? Why are we treated to every character's point-of-view except the rapist and his victim? How many panoramic views of flesh wounds and bedpans does it take to substitute for actual scene and character development?

And finally, why does anyone find any merit in this book whatsoever?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,118 reviews3,969 followers
July 14, 2015
A beautifully written and cleverly told story of relationships, growing up, guilt and, obviously, atonement and forgiveness. The essence of the story is how a childish mistake, made in good faith (more or less) can have consequences for many people, for many years.

Although it would be better to read this before watching the film, I’d heard that the book had been thought unfilmable and so was pretty different, which ensured I was alert to reading it with fresh eyes.

Part 1 is perhaps not quite as idyllic as in the film, but still presents a sharp contrast to the scenes in wartorn France that follow, where lovable Robbie is only referred to with detachment by his surname. Although powerfully described, I think the war section is a little too long, but it's a small quibble.

What McEwan does so well in this is the way he explains the inner thoughts and conflicts of his different characters, especially Briony, both as a naive and self-centred teenager, and as a selfless and guilt-ridden adult.

Profile Image for Charlotte May.
696 reviews1,074 followers
June 15, 2017
Atonement is an incredible story of ignorance and youth.
Younger sister Briony catches her sister in the thralls of a passionate embrace - being unsure of the meaning of this situation it leads her to accuse a young man of one of the most hideous acts.
The story follows the three characters as they lead separate lives, forever tainted by this one accusation. Briony is unable to find peace when she finds how wrong she was as a child, and how everyone's lives could have been different, had she come forward.
It follows Briony's path of redemption and atonement - with an ending that is so heartbreaking and dramatic, I will forever ache whenever I think of this book.
Profile Image for Tamoghna Biswas.
269 reviews107 followers
May 7, 2021
“The anticipation and dread he felt at seeing her was also a kind of sensual pleasure, and surrounding it, like an embrace, was a general elation--it might hurt, it was horribly inconvenient, no good might come of it, but he had found out for himself what it was to be in love, and it thrilled him.”

It has been a rather turmoiled couple of weeks, and of all reasons other than the second wave of covid, because of this novel. I again took a day off just to recover from the numbness, though every time I glance at the book, which incidentally is right on my lap as I write, I am unsure whether I really overcame it.

Where to begin? I think it will be safe to say this is one of the best written novels that I’ve read, which’s written in this century. And the characters…damn. Though it is looked upon by most as of romance-war genre, (or at least Google says so) I think it’s basically a very microscopic study of the inner turmoil of a precocious pseudo-intellectual and rather stupid adolescent. Well, Briony won’t be called precocious in this century, but suffice it to say it’s quite flabbergasting how much her thinking process is developed at a mere thirteen, though we could’ve done with a similarly well-developed conscience, at times she did seem like a smaller yet masculine version of Ronald Weasley, in the ways she showed off her protectiveness for her elder sister.

The prime focus is on the storytelling, obviously. Just like the numerous references to the classicists, all the words are like a brilliant fusion of the typical styles of Austen in her sarcastic undertone, Virginia Woolf in her stream of consciousness, Conrad in the delineations of the horrors of the battle-field and hospital beds, whereas the atmospheric built-up is certainly a homage to Thomas Mann (I got confirmed by McEwan’s influences’ list). And quite expectedly, there’s multiple shifts in tonality, though it gets significant in the transition from one Part to another. And herein lies the only flaw of the novel: it’s too flawless for its own good, kind of reminds me how Hemingway told after finishing his The Old Man and the Sea that there ain’t a wasted word. Well, I could’ve done with a couple of wasted words in a novel of this size. Anyway…

The interior monologues is another standing point for the novel. However, given that an entire section was devoted to the almost Kafkaesque devastations in Dunkirk and the blood and guts and excrement in the hospital, which is rather splatterpunk too, I feel Cecilia’s character deserved a bit more room, though that thought won’t cross anyone’s mind twice. The coincidences Robbie shared with his Freudian psychology, more than once, are similarly astounding.

A bit from my experience :(Skip if you feel like it) Just like I had done with Virginia Woolf’s or rather any other novel that’s just as brilliantly written, after reading just a page or two and already been dumbfounded by the fabulous storytelling, I decided that I will read only a bit a day so as to savor the brilliance. That does work most of the times, but after a point, I just gave up and read the remaining 250+ pages within two days.

However, a part of me still wishes that I haven’t read the last three pages. Just because… you know. There’s a sort of feeling, like from the very start of a novel you start to apprehend that the blow is about to come. Then you wait for it for ages, all prepared, and it never comes in a hard-hitting way, so you give a big sigh of relief for a not-so-happy-but-not-too-devastating-either-ending to come, but when it comes, you want to just chuck the book away as far as you can. That almost happened with me, I got numb. I couldn’t fully understand what just happened, and when I did…

I wish I had the spoilers; you know. I was recommended the movie almost since it ever came out, and I hadn’t watched it, or read anything about, well anything at all, so that I have the exact experience of those who read it when it came out at first (the year I was born, more precisely😊). And I had it. But I actually don’t know if I had wanted it to happen. It’s a genius, no doubt. But these types of books can be better relished if not taken personally.

And about the movie-well. I’m glad the green dress stayed. And it’s the only one point where the novel scores less than the movie, despite the performances.

“But what really happened? The answer is simple: the lovers survive and flourish.”
Profile Image for Tina.
511 reviews794 followers
November 9, 2012
A book that had me thinking about the story for days on end. Part One was very slow and I actually found it boring. The story begins in 1935 and focuses on a 13 year old girl, Briony who believes she witnesses something "sinister" between her older sister Cecilia and the housekeeper's son Robbie. The story continues with Briony's accusation and the ramifications it brings to Robbie's and Cecilia's lives and ultimately her own. I really enjoyed the second and third part of the novel when Robbie went off to war and Briony became a nurse. The ending was poignant yet fitting.
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