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Rory Book Discussions > Atonement - Chapters 4-10

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message 1: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) So... anyone care to discuss a little further along in the book? I'm on chapter 9 now, (and have been for the last week, actually, because I'm having such trouble getting into it and am therefore very easily distracted) so I'll post my thoughts when I finish chapter 10. But I thought it was time for a new thread. :)

message 2: by Meghan (last edited Jan 11, 2008 09:46AM) (new)

Meghan Okay, YAY I've completed Chapter 3 and have surprisingly whizzed through chapters 4 and 5.

What I really enjoyed about the next couple of chapters is how very different Cecilia is from Briony and yet how very much they are cut from the same cloth.

Cecilia at first seems the opposite of Briony--messy, a little wild, reveling in her chaos. But a little deeper look shows that she too must control her situation "when she dropped them in they once again refused to fall into the artful disorder she preferred, and instead swung round in the water into a willful neatness..." (P. 42)

I also liked that she took enjoyment, or comfort, in being able to "rescue" Briony from her problems and now after Briony's epiphany, is no longer able to provide such comfort. But more so, it soothed her.

"Addressing Briony's problems with kind words and caresses would have restored a sense of control."

How often do we as adults feel if only our problems could be so easily resolved with a kiss and a cookie? In a sense, even though Cecilia is the older sister, I think she is taking a step towards true adulthood here too.

message 3: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Here's a question though:

Do you feel that McEwan's writing is "messy" because he wants to portray the messiness that is the Tallis household? Or do you feel that he is just generally a less structured writer and it just happens to suit this story?

I haven't read anything else he wrote so I don't know if this is his typical writing style. Thoughts?

message 4: by Arielle (new)

Arielle | 120 comments Huh, good question. I just assumed that he wrote that way, but how skilled would you have to be, to do a whole book in a way that represents the chaos in the book?
It made me sad, the parts about the mom. I know a mom like that, and her adult daughters have to move in frequently and manage the household for their mother. I wonder if the girls get their need for control from watching their mom. The only way Emily can control things is to retreat from the world and let it pass her by, and in that, control what she's exposed to. To avoid ending up like that, maybe they are compelled to orchestrate everything so life never spins out of control.
It was also really sweet that Cecilia mothered Briony in a way. My sister did that when she was a teenager and I was a kid.
I have a feeling that Paul Marshall is a slimey pigman.
It makes me almost sick that so much of what happens could have been so easily prevented so many times, like delivering the right note (or even Robbie running Briony down to take it back), or Cecilia trying to explain herself, even just a little, after the scene in the library.

message 5: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I don't know, Meghan. I can only describe his writing in theatrical terms. In the theatre, there is over-acting, hamming it up, mugging, chewing the scenery. I feel like McEwan is over-writing, if that makes sense. The literary version of hamming it up.

message 6: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) "Actions she thought she could describe well enough, and she had the hand of dialogue. She could do the woods in winter, and the grimness of a castle wall. But how to do feelings? All very well to write, she felt sad, or describe what a sad person might do, but what of sadness itself, how was that put across so it could be felt in all its lowering immediacy?"

I underlined this passsage because it's sort of how I feel when I review a book or discuss a book here or in my book club. There are many times where I know how I felt about a book or a passage, but I can't verbalize why I felt that way or what it was specifically that made me feel that way. How DOES one write a feeling?

message 7: by Sera (new)

Sera Maybe the "messiness" is a metaphor for the disorder that exist within the characters themselves. Hence, their need for control. Maybe McWan used it as a technique to describe the feelings of the characters, too, which might provide an answer to Sarah's query.

By focusing on the needs of Briony, Cecilia may have helped distract herself from focusing on her own needs. Don't we sometimes fill a void in ourselves by filling it in someone else?

message 8: by Meghan (last edited Jan 12, 2008 09:13PM) (new)

Meghan I actually got the sense that they got their messiness from their mother and their need for control from their father. For example:

"He had precise ideas about where and when a woman should be seen smoking..." (p. 43)

But I found it interesting (somewhat) that the house was rather an embodiment or reflection of this family. In the beginning, McEwan described the house quite unflattering:

"Morning sunlight, or any light, could not conceal the ugliness of the Tallis be condemned one day in an article by a tragedy of wasted chances, and by a young writer of the modern school as 'charmless to a fault.'....Cecilia's grandfather...had imposed on the new house his taste for all things solid, secure and functional." (p. 18)

I found it interesting that their mother mentioned Leon's wasting away in a private bank rather than use his father's connections and Cecilia (and young women in general) are wasting their time in college when she knew that they needed to get marry and have babies. Even she was wasting away in the bedroom rather than out there with her family.

Later, when Briony was thrashing the nettles, he goes on to describe the island temple:

"intended as a point of interest, an eye-catching feature to enhance the pastoral ideal, and had of course no religious purpose at all....Closer to, the temple had a sorrier the temple was suppose to embody references to teh original Adam house, though nobody in the Tallis family knew what they were....More than the dilapidation, it was this connection, this lost memory of the temple's grander relation, which gave the useless little building its sorry air."

How many of the upper class are really like this? Glossy on the outside but much sorrier when looked upon up close (reality tv has given us that un/fortunate viewpoint). It makes me think of watching all those former rock idols now doing reality tv. You think back of their glory days and seeing them now, it makes their demise all the more sad.


"Tragedy had rescued the temple from being entirely fake."

To me, that sentence probably will sum up this entire story. It seems to foretell that the mysterious tragedy that I know will come will essentially give life to some, if not all, of the family members. You definitely get the sense that almost everyone you've met so far is not living the life they should (i.e., it's all fake). And maybe the tragedy will force them to face life as it really is and command them to be the person they should (rather like when Briony tried to figure out when that moment from thinking about moving her finger to when her finger actually moved).

message 9: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Really great observations, M.

message 10: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 50 comments I'm getting this sense that a major theme in this book is self-importance and the events that chip away at each person's. Briony's is obvious -- her ordered world, her command of her audiences' reactions -- as is her counterpoint moment, the realization that others have a vivid sense of self as well.

Cecilia's I think is manifested in her stagnant attitude, almost as if she is too important for any of the other paths available to her. She's lost her footing a little, just from Briony growing up and not needing her soothing.

Emily even shows it, in her long discourse during her migraine -- it's all in the vein of of the feeling that without her everyone is falling apart a little, and only when she emerges from her room will things be put right. She has obviously long since lost that righteous self-importance of her children, but is still losing bits and pieces as they grow up and grow away from her.

I think some of those moments feed really nicely into Meghan's input on each person's fake life -- how they see themselves versus how their lives really are. The tragedy is going to cut through the distance that has been created by each character living in his or her own fantasy life, based on their self-importance.

I've been really touched so far with the description and history of the vase (to the point where I hope it continues to be a part of the story -- I'm only through chapter 7). However, my favorite passage was that describing how Cecilia and Leon sent one another into fits with their respective "look"s. Talk about evoking an old feeling for me, with my own brother!

Finally, sorry if my comments are rambling or difficult to follow -- I haven't tried to express my thoughts in a while and I've never been the most concise writer!

message 11: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Rebecca - your comments made me think of another question. Do you (and anyone else) think it's weird that her children call her Emily? I thought that spoke volumes of the kind of "mothering" she does!

message 12: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 50 comments You know, it fits into the "self-view vs. reality" theme that she and her older children would interpret her role as mother much differently. I can see that being an intentional nod toward the idea.

Honestly though, it doesn't seem out of place to me. I see the family as belonging to a certain educational circle where that kind of avant-garde thinking is beginning to take place. Maybe it stems from her hands-off mothering style, but maybe is just a side-effect of the type of education Leon & Cecilia have had, and them feeling like they have been elevated to her equal in society or the household. But perhaps that elevation has been caused by her absence, after all. I haven't seen any reference to Briony calling her Emily; that I would find a little more strange.

Either way, I definitely think it adds an interesting dynamic to the household!

message 13: by Dini, the master of meaning (last edited Jan 14, 2008 07:35PM) (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
Sarah, I so agree with you on writing about feelings! That's why sometimes I refrain from participating in book club discussions cause I know how I feel about a book, but it's often hard to DESCRIBE it. Sigh.

I found some discussion questions on Atonement on the net, I thought I'd post some of them in appropriate threads to help fish out some comments (I think Alison has posted some of them before). And to be honest I'm throwing these questions to all of you because I find some of them difficult to answer myself!

While we're on the topic of Emily:

* What kind of a person is Emily Tallis? Why does McEwan decide not to have Jack Tallis make an appearance in the story? Who, if anyone, is the moral authority in this family? What is the parents' relationship to Robbie Turner, and why does Emily pursue his conviction with such single-mindedness?

message 14: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Rebecca - love the insight. Have to review it more to make any proper comments.

Dini - thanks for the research. This really helps me, who while finding the book easier to read, appreciate the story more. And inspire me to continue my reading.

message 15: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Dini - I've been thinking about your questions regarding Emily. Mainly because I've (finally) moved beyond chapter 10 and she's being revealed more. But this one passage really stood out for me about her:

"She knew for a fact that the whole performance, women at the Varsity, was childish really, at best an innocent lark...a little posturing alongside their brothers dressed up in the solemnity of social progress."

I don't want to get political here, but this passage makes me think of the elections this year (Michigan had their primaries today). How far has this country come in electing a woman president. Regardless of whether or not you would vote for Clinton, is this country ready for a Madam President? Or is it going to take some more elections with more female candidates for it to become more mainstream? How far have we come from the early 1900s?

message 16: by Sera (new)

Sera Meghan, to address your answer, I do believe that we've come a long way since the 1900s. However, the changes have not come as quickly as many would have liked. The biggest changes are the slowest to occur, and in my opinion, also require a huge moment to expedite them. I follow this year's election with great interest, for many reasons that I won't get into here because I don't want the conversation to turn political, but what I am learning is that women voters of all ages, classes and races identify with Hilary and what she is going through in running for President. I have heard many women say on television and on the radio talkshows that every time the media takes an unfair shot at Hilary that they can empathize with her. When the media makes fun of her laugh, women identify with being picked at for something that has nothing to do with their abilities. When they call Hilary cold, woman empathize with having been personally judged when they try to be serious. When Hilary teared up, women voters identified with how hard it is to keep fighting when things aren't going their way.

To put it simply, I hear alot of pissed of women who are tired of living in a man's world and that are ready to have a woman in a position of power. If she wins, to me, this will be the big moment that we need to expedite change and then elections with more female candidates will become the mainstream. Recall that 20+ years ago, many people wouldn't vote for Walter Mondale because he had Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate and hear we (finally) are talking about the possibility of the first women President.

message 17: by Meghan (last edited Jan 17, 2008 03:10PM) (new)

Meghan Ooohhh, that's really interesting Sera. But it makes me respond with another question to you:

Do you feel that (any) woman candidate will be voted for BECAUSE she's a woman rather than because she's the most qualified? Does qualification matter right now or is it more important to have that step be taken (i.e., having a female president)?

And to put this back in context with the book - Emily couldn't understand why Cecilia and the other women would even bother going to college as they weren't allowed to obtain a "proper" degree. Do you think that women should have waited until such degrees were allowed (rather than give into the image of girls playing at education) or was this step necessary in order to further the concept as "normal" in society so that further down the line, it becomes acceptable? And also, so that higher education was not just for the privileged few but for all women?

message 18: by Sera (last edited Jan 17, 2008 05:05PM) (new)

Sera Meghan, I love the way in which you think. No, I don't think any woman candidate would fit the bill as you mentioned. In the past few elections, there have been women who have run for President, Patricia Schroeder to name one, who didn't make any impact whatsoever on the female voting public. Hilary isn't the first woman to run, but she brings something much more important to the table, people know her and understand that she has devoted her life to politics. Most also view her as a public servant, and her marriage to Bill Clinton has given her a wide audience. Remember that he had had her head up the team to reform health insurance, and even though it failed, and miserably so, people give her credit for trying, and in turn, she received national exposure, even though much of it was negative. Hilary also ran for the Senate to ensure that she would obtain experience in the federal government, which some pundits believed she also used to serve as the precursor for her Presidential bid. Therefore, I don't think that women would elect any woman to office simply because she was a woman. She would have to be very qualified, and Hilary certainly fits the bill. In my opinion, I believe that she knows that, too, which is why she has taken the political path that she has over the last 15 years.

Great tie-in to Atonement, too. I don't think that women should have waited until they could earn degrees before seeking higher education. First, knowledge is power, irrespective of whether it has been formally recognized. Second, by waiting for things to be just so, wouldn't that result in a huge win for the oppressors of women? I wouldn't be surprised if one of the reasons that women weren't given degrees was to discourage them from attending college at all. However, I do agree with your point that a benefit of Cecilia and other women going to school anyway was to normalize it so that it would become more acceptable in society.

It's the same thing with electing a President. Once a woman or other minority gets into office, people will feel more comfortable voting for candidates who don't fit the white man mold. It's funny, because I never would have thought that America would be so behind in this way of thinking. Most countries around the world don't even give gender or color a second thought when it comes to electability; it's about who they deem is most qualified to do the best job.

message 19: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I've always thought it was interesting that countries like Britain were ruled by women centuries ago (Elizabeth I, anyone?) yet the United States wonders if it's ready for a woman president. I do think, however, that the office of the President of the United States comes with many more pressures and responsibilities than the top office in most other countries. We are the leaders of the free world, after all.

But I can't stand Hillary, so I think I should maybe keep out of this conversation, heh.

message 20: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Okay, so we had a conversation on women, I thought it would be good to have a conversation about the men in this book (or seemingly lack thereof--at least in Part 1).

From what I've read in Part 1, the lack of a strong male influence in Briony's life is (partly) the reason why she was so hell bent on "exposing" the truth about Robbie. In Chapter 10, she reveals, "Something irreducibly human, or male, threatened the order of their household, and Briony knew that unless she helped her sister, they would all suffer." (p. 107)

To me, due to her father always being gone, her brother away at school, Robbie away at school, even Robbie's father "running away", there isn't a whole lot of men in her day-to-day life. The household is very female. So when Robbie's crude letter is revealed, she does feel very threatened. She is not used to the "ways of men" that maybe, had she had more exposure to their ways of being, would not have been so shocking to her.

But also, her father being gone left the household to her mother. Her mother's illness left it to her sister. So to Briony, there is a need to protect these women, especially her sister, in order to keep her life in the balance that she understood and always has known.

"When her father was home, the household settled around a fixed point....his presence imposed order and allowed freedom....a crisis in the kitchen became no more than a humorous sketch; without him, it was a drama that clutched the heart."

The fact that Briony understood this at such a tender age, goes to show how screwed up this household really was. That her father was not home the night she read this letter also shows how these events went to grow terribly out of hand.

So (in my longwinded way), do you feel that if Jack had been home, Paul would even have ATTEMPTED his advances on Lola? Would the twins have run away? Would Briony have accused Robbie, and if so, would she have been believed? Could all of this have been prevented had the head of household just come home? And how important is a father-figure in real life? Is there anything to the argument that kids without dads have a tougher time growing up than kids with dads? Or rather, kids with actively participating dads?

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