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Rory Book Discussions > Atonement - Chapters 1-3

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message 1: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Okay, not sure if there was a thread started and I just missed it. But since I've been the one whining that there's been no book discussion, I guess it's fitting that I start one! I don't know what the chapter breakdowns should be, so I just put this up there. I can edit it if the moderators feel like it should be greater or smaller.

So anyone start this book yet? Thoughts on the story (not that there is much story in the first 3 chapters, IMO)? Thoughts on the writing style?

Personally, I find McEwan's writing very messy. He took 6 pages to write (basically) that Cecilia put flowers into a vase. I thought that was a bit excessive.

Also, I'm finding it a bit distracting that, while I haven't seen the movie, the actors keep popping in my brain while reading. And considering the Briony in the movie is blonde and the one in the book is brunnette, it keeps giving me a jolt! But yeah, I can see how Briony is total trouble bubbling under the surface.

message 2: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) And how about that play rehearsal? Several chapters' worth of play practice and nothing happens except that Briony looks out the window. It just seems like there is too much exposition and character development up front. We get the point. Briony's got an overactive imagination and Cecelia likes Robbie but is in denial. Let's move on now.

message 3: by Erin (new)

Erin | 47 comments I was frustrated with the writing at first as well Meghan. I felt like I was reading Virginia Woolf (who I am not generally fond of). The character descriptions and description in general do get tiring, but I saw the need for them as I went on in the novel. However, I was having a hard time going on because I figured out where the book was going and I didn't want it to go there.

The first few chapters cast Briony in an interesting light. She is somewhat impetuous and we can tell she has a mischievous side to her. Our perception of her as a person changes throughout the novel and I had a hard time believing she was supposed to be a real person. All of her thoughts and actions seemed foreign to me especially in the later part of the novel. I felt like she has no real motivations for anything. Not sure if anyone else felt that way either.

Having said that though, there were times when I was reading it that I couldn't put it down. It does get better!

message 4: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Oh thanks for those encouraging words Erin! All the movie previews talk about is "the crime" and so I'm sticking with it just to find out what all the hubbub is about. Plus, I'd much rather learn more about Cecilia than Briony.

Oh and what are anyone's thoughts on Lola?!

message 5: by Arctic (new)

Arctic | 571 comments Ok. Yeah I was having trouble not seeing Keira Knightley when I read as well. I'm not familiar with who is playing Briony or Robbie in the film, but Robbie's last name (Turner) paired with the image of Ms. Knightley has me picturing Orlando Bloom. gah! This is the problem with movies based on books.

Otherwise though, I've actually been really enjoying McEwan's writing so far and haven't had a problem reading it. I like how descriptive he's been. I'm about 3/4's through the book, and have pulled 12 quotes for remembering from Chapters 1-7, nine of these from chapters 1-3. After that, the writing speeds up and so far I've only jotted down three very short quotes. the writing hasn't declined, it's just not as poetic as the first half.

It helps though that I really appreciated Briony's character and her thoughts early in the book.

Overall though it's kind of been like watching a train-wreck in slow motion. I suppose this speaks of good foreshadowing by the author.

message 6: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I'm not ver far into it but I fear for the relationship between Lola and this chocolate-making visitor. Something is creepy about they way they talk to each other.

message 7: by Arctic (last edited Jan 07, 2008 02:42PM) (new)

Arctic | 571 comments speaking of foreshadowing, i think the flowers exposition was all about that, this line summing it up:

"It made no sense, she knew, arranging flowers before the water was in—but there it was; she couldn’t resist moving them around, and not everything people did could be in a correct, logical order, especially when they were alone."

If we replace the word 'flowers' with the word 'life', and interpret water to mean external influences, we have a glimpse of what the book is about and what the characters have to deal with. McEwan hints at this same theme elsewhere with other characters as well.

and Sarah, I agree, I had that feeling too, though I'm not sure there's anything to it - at least in the long view it becomes complicated.

message 8: by Arielle (new)

Arielle | 120 comments I finished the book yesterday, completely bummed out that it was over, so I'll have to REALLY concentrate to avoid accidental spoilers!
I found the writing early in the story alternating between beautifully descriptive, and just plain tedious. For example, the two page immersion in Briony's innermost thoughts as she contemplated her finger, was agonizing for me. On the other hand, I remember wondering about my place in the bigger picture of the world when I was young, so I can kind of relate to her. What struck me the most about chapter three was how completely arrogant and self-centered Briony is (I say while remembering my own self-centeredness at that age - eek!). What she observed was a very private thing but she spared the briefest of thoughts to her sister before wrapping the whole rendezvous into her theatrical writing and her desire to come of age.
You were able to follow her thinking really well, which probably says a lot for the author.
He delivers foreshadowing very gracefully, just delicately dropping hints that something isn't right, or is not quite what it seems. You can definitely sense trouble brewing just by understanding the melodramatic way Briony thinks, even if you haven't seen the previews for the movie.
Speaking of, Keira Knightley was firmly ensconced in my brain, no matter how much I tried to picture her differently.
All that said, take heart, it gets better, and I was so sad that it was over.
Wow, that was a long comment! Sorry, I'm just super excited to be discussing this book!

message 9: by Arctic (last edited Jan 07, 2008 04:26PM) (new)

Arctic | 571 comments The development of Briony's character gave me problems too. I think though that at first she appeared so grown up, with her thoughts on how other people are real with their own thoughts and perspectives, and her reflections on writing and what her writing said about herself. Later however she's written more to her age, as self-absorbed and seemingly thoughtless. it's a bit contradictory.

I think perhaps it was the consequence of a literary device. McEwan needed a character to express certain thoughts at the beginning of the book and so it fell to her to do so.

message 10: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I never had a problem with picturing Keira Knightly until you all kept talking about her! :)

message 11: by Arielle (new)

Arielle | 120 comments !!!

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

I finsihed the book a couple days ago. I thought the beginning was really s-l-o-w. Briony reminded me of myself when I was younger. Only I wasnt so naive.

I dunno, I felt the book was way too predictable. But I still enjoyed reading it. It even made me cry, but I wont mention at what parts.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh ya..and for some strange reason..I kept picturing Orlando Bloom in my mind too. But I think thats because I had just watched Pirates before reading it, and had him on my mind, lol.

message 14: by Erin (new)

Erin | 76 comments I'm only about a quarter of the way through the novel, and can't help but worry that these images that I'm getting of Briony will come back to haunt me -

"She was one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world just so. Whereas her big sister's room was a stew of unclosed books, unfolded clothes, unmade bed, unemptied ashtrays, Briony's was a shrine to her controlling demon: the model farm spread across a deep window ledge consisted of all the usual animals, but all facing one way - toward their owner - as if about to break into song, and even the farmyard hens were neatly corralled."

Even her writing seems an extension of a desire to create and direct her own world. "Her passion for tidiness was also satisfied, for an unruly world could be made just so."

And I am loving McEwan's language: 'possesed' 'stew' 'controlling demon' 'unfolded...unmade...unemptied'

message 15: by Robbie (new)

Robbie Bashore | 592 comments I suppose one of the good things about rarely having time for movies is that I have no idea who what's-her-face Knightly is. I also read the book quite a while ago, so the book would always be the predominant vision for me.

As for Briony, she is naive as Frances alluded to. Because of this, she only has a few boxes in which to fit any scenes she observes that she did not script.

Reading about Briony can be annoying, but it also reminds me how difficult it can be at that age. We think we know all about how life is supposed to work yet we're frequently confronted with data that doesn't fit.

message 16: by Dini, the master of meaning (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
To me McEwan's long descriptions and exposition can be tedious and fascinating at the same time. To quote Arctic: "it's like watching a train-wreck in slow motion" -- hear hear!

I also find it interesting to see different points of view of the same event, from Cecilia's and Briony's eyes, also from Robbie's and even Emily's in later chapters.

I don't remember in which chapter it was mentioned (I've only just finished Part One), but doesn't it seem weird to you guys that Cecilia and Leon call their mother by her first name? I mean, this is set in the 1930s. The whole reason that she was often sick and all is just not very convincing to me.

message 17: by Arctic (new)

Arctic | 571 comments yeah the name thing is weird, but I was able to accept it for some reason, which is also weird.

I really like the different points of view thing too, and was wondering while I read it how they would maintain that in the movie, since the the different perspectives thing seems to be such an recurrent theme. I guess I'll have to watch it to find out.

message 18: by Erin (new)

Erin | 47 comments It's funny, when thinking of Robbie I didn't think of Orlando Bloom (although I did notice the Turner thing), I thought of Mark Wahlberg because I think the actor who plays Robbie looks like him on the cover of the novel.

message 19: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I'm not really picturing any actors as Robbie right now. I'm enjoying picturing him in my own imagination.

message 20: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Erin, I also liked the "unclosed/unemptied/unfolded/unmade" line. There are phrases and passages here and there that I really like, but for the most part, when you put them all together, it's tedious. Too much exposition. I know I keep saying that, but it's true! lol

message 21: by Sera (new)

Sera Briony is all about controlling the outcome of things. The reason why the play is such a big deal for her in my opinion is that she gets to control the people in the play by telling them how to act, what to say and what to do. That's one of the reasons that she's so disappointed. Her need to control people and outcomes (in my opinion) is a central to her character and one of the themes of the book.

I also agree that the book is a tough read. Writers who go on with descriptions can be tedious at times, but I really thought that the book was incredibly written. Many people don't like Steinbeck for the same reasons, but I believe that getting the feel of a place is the hallmark of a great writer. The Road is another excellent example of this premise.

message 22: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) See, I love Steinbeck's descriptions. I think I mentioned in another thread that even though it took Steinbeck 3 paragraphs to describe a wheat field, he did it with such skill and beauty that I hang on every word.

message 23: by Arctic (last edited Jan 22, 2008 07:53AM) (new)

Arctic | 571 comments Kind of funny - I like this book, but have never really been big on Steinbeck, though admittedly I haven't read him since high school. Maybe it's time to give him another try.

Good observation about the play Sera. I totally overlooked that part of things - the play being symbolic for much more, it appears.


message 24: by Mary (new)

Mary | 29 comments Regarding the earlier posts about inconsistencies in Briony's voice (sometimes she's really insightful and sounds so grown-up and other times she reminded me of the spoiled, self-centered, melodramatic kid I sometimes was at her age) it helped me to remember as I was reading that this is McEwan's rendition of the adult Briony writing about herself as a young girl. So I didn't interpret it as a flaw of McEwan's, but as an intentional device he used because he was writing someone else's memoir. The inconsistencies in her voice highlight the difficulty of memoir-can we ever really write accurately about ourselves?, is memoir really a non-fiction genre?, did James Frey (A Million Little Pieces)lie any more than any other person telling their life story?, what's the difference between truth and fact? I still found Briony annoying a lot of the time, but she gave me a lot to think about.

message 25: by Dini, the master of meaning (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
I also agree about the play, Sera. And isn't it frustrating for Briony when Lola & the twins couldn't perform the play the way she wanted them to? Then she gave up on plays as a genre altogether cause short stories are just so much easier to control. Somehow it brings to my mind the image of film directors -- they are the principal creator of this work of art but they have to constantly rely on other people: actors, writers, cameramen, editors, music directors, basically the whole crew. How exasperating it must be for control freaks! lol

message 26: by Beth (new)

Beth | 173 comments I have to say that I LOVED this book. I think it's a great example of a psychological novel, intending to show the inner dialogue and the processes of thought that humans use to analyze interactions and make decisions. I think McEwan accomplishes this so skillfully - the novel seemed to have such a beautiful flow, it did not feel at all tedious or frustrating to me. I think that Briony's inconsistencies are typical of an intellectually precocious adolescent. Her intelligence makes her seem so advanced, but when a situation calls for a nuanced analysis of adult motivations and behaviors, she falls short.
I may be getting ahead of the discussion here, but the book captured an idea that I strongly believe in: the smallest misunderstandings can lead to the greatest tragedies.

message 27: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Okay, so can I ask WHEN does this story actually start? I am struggling to finish chapter three. I simply do not care one iota about any of the characters and therefore don't care what happens to them. You would think that being the control freak that I am (it's okay, you can all nod your head in agreement), that I would, if not love, at least relate to Briony's needs to control everything. And it's quite obvious that McEwan is setting her up for some huge event that in her attempt to control (or maybe lose control), she finds she can't control anything. (I'm currently at the part in Chapter 3 where she's questioning her aliveness--at what point do you stop pretending and action happens--her example, moving her finger. To me this is obvious that he's going to use this further down the road.) But I guess when? How much more of this "set up" am I going to have to go through before the action happens? (Yes I'm impatient too.)

But I do have to say, your comments are inspiring to keep slugging away at this. Normally I think I would have given up days ago.

message 28: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Mary - I really like your interpretation of Briony's voice vs McEwan's writing. That's such a great way of seeing it and is infinitely helpful in reading it now. The inconsistency was driving me batty but seeing this in a new light makes me approach it all differently.

Sigh. This is why I love this club! You all give such great insights and outlooks on these books!

message 29: by Sera (new)

Sera Meghan, this book will really try your patience. The middle part is the slowest so it will likely get even tougher for you to keep reading at that point. However, many of us found it to be worth it - so keep going! Hopefully, you will feel the same way when it's over.

message 30: by Alison, the guru of grace (last edited Jan 09, 2008 01:43PM) (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
Good morning, readers! I just posted and lost the longest post of my life. O.K. Round 2.

I just read this book over the summer, and my copy is loaned out. I'm hoping that the following discussion question stays within the range of this thread: Chapters 1-3.

**A passion for order, a lively imagination, and a desire for attention seem to be Briony's strongest traits. In what ways is she still a child? Is her narcissism—her inability to see things from any point of view but her own—unusual in a thirteen-year-old? Why does the scene she witnesses at the fountain change her whole perspective on writing? What is the significance of the passage in which she realizes she needs to work from the idea 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" [p. 38]? Do her actions bear this out?**

Remember, don't comment beyond chapter 3...that would be a spoiler! :)

I think we would all agree that Briony's emotional intelligence and instincts have not caught up with her cognitive and creative ability to think and process ideas. As an early reader, my vocabulary and reasoning skills were honed long before my social skills and my ability to process "grown-up" relationships. What kind of maturity can we not gain from books? What kind of personal growth comes from living life outside of books, in the "real world?"

message 31: by Joey (new)

Joey | 26 comments I wholeheartedly agree with this from the above poster: "I think we would all agree that Briony's emotional intelligence and instincts have not caught up with her cognitive and creative ability to think and process ideas." I felt that MacEwan addresses this by having her use words in a somewhat correct way, but they are still off and not quite right semantically, like when she uses the word "cursory" to describe a stallions ride through the night and "esoteric" for coins. To me it highlights Briony's sort of limbo between childhood and adulthood. She's on the way, but just can't get it quite right.

I, too, found the beginning of the book a little slow, but I also found that with his book "Saturday". I generally don't mind descriptive passages, but with these I was internally saying "Ok hurry it up a little". From what I have read so far it does get better. Much better. Maybe he was trying to really get the feeling of the mundane lives they were all leading up to the later events?

message 32: by Meghan (last edited Jan 14, 2008 08:59AM) (new)

Meghan Okay, I just wanted to thank everyone who gave their thoughts. It REALLY helped. I was struggling so badly to get through chapter 3 and was thinking "how am I ever going to finish this book?!" But with new "eyes" this book has taken on a new light. I can't say that I love McEwan's writing, but I am enjoying the story more.

That said, I just wanted to comment on the section towards the end of chapter 3 (pg 37 in my book). It was while Briony was watching Cecilia and Robbie and her "epiphany" happened.

"Briony had her first, weak intimation that for her now it could no longer be fairy-tale castles and princesses, but the strangenes of the here and now, of what passed between people, the ordinary people that she knew, and what power one could have over the other, and how easy it was to get everything wrong, completely wrong."

I just loved that part. This seems like such a huge foreshadow of what's to come (I found more in the next couple of chapters as well). But I love this because it is so true about us humans. It is so easy to screw everything up so completely, whether intentionally or not, good or bad.

But I also enjoyed that in just that moment, Briony grew up a little. It's rather a bittersweet moment, especially since I have a daughter. I can see how that moment is still far off for me, but it is in her future. It makes me want to protect her--to keep her innocent--and yet also makes me want her to experience it because it will make her wiser.

message 33: by Robbie (new)

Robbie Bashore | 592 comments What you said, Meghan, about the ease with which humans can get everything wrong is also brilliantly shown in the book March by Geraldine Brooks. Whatever one sees, hears or experiences in any way is shaped by our previous experiences and/or pre-conceived notions of the way things are. And our words and responses can have more impact on things than we can imagine. Even when, or especially when, we don't want to be so powerful.

message 34: by Emily (new)

Emily | 60 comments While McEwan's writing style is a little tedious to me, I think the book is beautifully written. His use of language is amazing.

Meghan, the scene that you mentioned I loved because to me it was the strongest example in the first few chapters of Briony's power of observation. Everyone has internal conversations on their observations of others, and I think McEwan writes Briony's brilliantly.

message 35: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 50 comments Enjoying all of your comments and interpretations. I am one who easily gets bogged down with lengthy descriptive passages, but I'm not having that problem with this book. I think because it's more emotional scenery than visual, if that makes sense.

I'm impressed with McEwan's ability to mentally bring me back to the mindset of of a girl Briony's age. I think Alison said it beautifully above, about her emotional and intellectual sides being out of balance. It's a terrifying time of walking the line between precocious and pretentious before getting it right, and in my experience at least it took several glaring errors to figure out the rules.

I'm completely fascinated to see what happens next.

message 36: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 74 comments Just starting Chapter 4. I read NA first. I'm really enjoying this book so far. The way McEwan depicts Briony's thoughts about others and if they are basically as deep as her is quite intersting. It's the type of internal dialogue I wold imagine a lot of us have, but never really say out loud. I like that kind of writing. I can really relate to Briony and I'm looking forward to seeing how all of the characters develop.

message 37: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Becky - So glad you came back to talk about Atonement! Can't wait to read your next observations. I've really struggled with the story so it's been a big help to read everyone's thoughts on it.

Not to make more work for you, but I really hope you go to the compare/contrast thread and post some observations. So far I believe most everyone who has read both books feel it was a good pairing. Just would like to hear your thoughts on it.

message 38: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Okay Alison, I'm ready to finally tackle your questions (asked ages ago, I know). This was really deep and I really felt I needed to read more of the book in order to fully round out my answers:

**A passion for order, a lively imagination, and a desire for attention seem to be Briony's strongest traits. In what ways is she still a child? Is her narcissism—her inability to see things from any point of view but her own—unusual in a thirteen-year-old? Why does the scene she witnesses at the fountain change her whole perspective on writing? What is the significance of the passage in which she realizes she needs to work from the idea 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" [p. 38]? Do her actions bear this out?**

I'm not sure I agree that it is unusual for a 13 year old to be able to see things beyond their own point of view. Children, even teens, are biologically self-centered because it's what helps them grow. They must learn about themselves before they can tackle the outside world. Also, I think putting in the scope of the time (1940s), 13 year olds are not as socially advanced as their counterparts of today. 13 year olds were still thought of as children.

For her originally to write the way she viewed life--beginning, middle, end, specific story arc, everything is orderly--was very confining and was starting to contradict how she saw life. However, her newfound concepts of seeing things outside herself, I can only imagine as quite overwhelming. And while she played at the idea (that Robbie had his thoughts and Cecilia had hers), she still didn't fully grasp it. And so, her viewpoint still dominanted her understanding of the events that took place. In that, it showed her immaturity both as a person and as a writer. But I felt this was a critical moment for her. Every writer has a turning point and I believe this was one for her.

message 39: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Meghan, I really like the point you make about her writing orderly stories and that order contradicting the way she's starting to view life.

message 40: by Lindsey (new)

Lindsey | 5 comments I was having a pretty hard time dealing with this too so far. It made me feel pretty weird because there are so many reviews about this book being an amazing masterpiece, and here I am struggling through pages upon pages of (what feels like) unnecessary detail. I really didn't know if I was going to keep reading. I buy new books so rarely (and ok, thrift store books too often) that I sort of felt like I was going to lose it if I didn't finish it. It'd just be one more book on the pile of unfinished books.

But I did see somewhere on here that others felt the same way about the slow-movement and lagging lengthly descriptions. One review said once you get past the first 150 or so pages it would open up to me. I'm around 80-90 or so (which really shouldn't have taken me a week to read!) and it's getting a bit better.
I'll probably be writing a crazy review whenever I finish.

message 41: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Lindsey, I had the hardest time with Part One. It took me about two weeks because I wouldn't be able to read for more than ten minutes at a time before getting bored and moving on to something else. But I breezed through Part two in about an hour and a half yesterday.

message 42: by Dini, the master of meaning (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
You're getting there, Lindsey... keep it up! ;)

message 43: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Lindsey - Hang in there lady! And don't feel bad. While I'm coming around to McEwan's writing, personally, I'm just not into this book. I just don't care about any of the characters.

But people here have been really encouraging and I will admit, once the "crime" took place, the story did pick up. But I've been reading this book since the new year and I'm just starting Part 2 today. I'm hoping to have it done by, oh, June. HA!

message 44: by Shannon, the founder of fun (back from sabbatical) (new)

Shannon | 254 comments Mod
Ok I'm about 90 pages in and I'm really loving it. I think I struggled witht the first couple chapters from Briony's point of view and the lengthy descriptions at first seemed a bit much, but now that I am further into the book I am cherishing the exquisite detail. I can really picture the scenes clearly in my head. I'm also starting to dread what I know is lingering around the next corner because I am enjoying the characters so much. Sometimes it is difficult for me to read tragic books because I become so emotionally involved. I hope to get through the rest of the book this weekend and I'm looking forward to reading more of everyone's thoughts.

What a great book pic. This group has the best members - I love you guys!

message 45: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Lindsey - if this helps, I'm finding Part 2 a breeze to get through. I got through about 20 pages in about 30 minutes (something was impossible for me in Part 1). Hope that gives you hope!

message 46: by Sera (new)

Sera Shannon, I agree that book club is the best one of which I have ever been a part. I love you and the others, too!

message 47: by Lindsey (new)

Lindsey | 5 comments Okay, well I finished it yesterday morning! You were all right, it was much easier once I got to part two! I won't say anything that gives it away.

I cried a little during some of the wartime scenes. I came away from it not really attached to any of the characters though. I think I felt a little dissatisfied at the end.

I'm heading over to the intro post later for this group - I'm a huge GG fan! It's so exciting to see this group exist!

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