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Rory Book Discussions > Atonement - Part 2

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message 1: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Anyone want to talk about part 2?

message 2: by Arctic (last edited Jan 14, 2008 02:59PM) (new)

Arctic | 571 comments This for me was the hardest part to get through and seemed to be the longest part as well. I've never much enjoyed reading about the horrors and insanity of war, though I'm usually better for it in the end. (Even Slaughterhouse-Five was an effort for me in that respect, and I ended up really loving that book.)

I really wish McEwan had stuck to the chapters format used in Part 1. But I guess it serves as more of a delineation this way in the grand scheme of things. I've read that this kind of long format is also sometimes used by authors when writing about war to more fully convey the feeling of never-ending weariness often felt by soldiers (as in All Quiet on the Western Front).

I have three things to quote:

“I’ll wait for you. Come back.”

"He walked
the land
he came
to the sea."

"It was madness to go to the man’s defense, it was loathsome not to. At the same time, Turner understood the exhilaration among the tormentors and the insidious way it could claim him. He himself could do something outrageous with his bowie knife and earn the love of a hundred men. To distance the thought he made himself count the two or three soldiers in the circle he reckoned bigger or stronger than himself. But the real danger came from the mob itself, its righteous state of mind. It would not be denied its pleasures."

message 3: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Heather - that quote:

"He walked across the land until he came to the sea."

So beautiful to me for some reason. Thanks!

message 4: by Arctic (new)

Arctic | 571 comments my pleasure. it's the poetry of it I think, both as hexameter and as war-time mantra, that makes it so attractive.

message 5: by Dini, the master of meaning (last edited Jan 14, 2008 10:11PM) (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
"A war-time mantra" indeed, Heather.

I also love the part when, after all the bombings, Robbie vaguely remembered and missed his father. He also realized he wanted to have children, like all the other people around him do because it's only natural for them to want to have children after seeing so much death. I don't have the book with me right now, but I remember something like "there were countless dreamed-up children there that day". It was heartbreaking.

As I've done in other threads on Atonement, I'm posting some discussion questions I found on the net in the hope that they might help bring out discussion and that you guys might answer them better than me, lol. Here are the ones related to part 2:

* In McEwan's earlier novel Black Dogs, one of the main characters comes to a realization about World War II. He thinks about "the recently concluded war not as a historical, geopolitical fact but as a multiplicity, a near-infinity of private sorrows, as a boundless grief minutely subdivided without diminishment among individuals who covered the continent like dust, like spores whose separate identities would remain unknown, and whose totality showed more sadness than anyone could ever begin to comprehend" [Black Dogs, p. 140]. Does McEwan intend his readers to experience the war similarly in Atonement? What aspects of Atonement make it so powerful as a war novel? What details heighten the emotional impact in the scenes of the Dunkirk retreat?

* When Robbie, Mace, and Nettle reach the beach at Dunkirk, they intervene in an attack on an RAF man who has become a scapegoat for the soldiers' sense of betrayal and rage. As in many of his previous novels, McEwan is interested in aggressive human impulses that spin out of control. How does this act of group violence relate to the moral problems that war creates for soldiers, and the events Robbie feels guilty about as he falls asleep at Bray Dunes?

message 6: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Stirrat | 201 comments Due to some horrid technical problem beyond my ken, my post this morning disappeared! Ach! I will try to replicate it as best I can.

I actually liked this section a great deal. I thought it was well-paced, relatively suspenseful and good at conveying the horrors of war without becoming too gruesome. Dunkirk is such an important and interesting battle and McEwan did an excellent job of using its chaos to mirror the chaos caused by Briony's "crime." I disliked this portion of the movie as it seemed to come out of nowhere, drag on forever and smack the viewer with so much horror.

On the other hand, McEwan could have related this section back to central technique by more clearly illustrating that this is Briony writing Robbie's experience. Although there were a few clues -- such as the use of "come back to me," which Cecelia said to Briony when she was little and have nightmares, more clues would have helped the reader understand the concept of the book more fully.

In addition, I love that this section deals with the Battle of Dunkirk. Such an inspiring story of British fishermen pulling the English army out of the ocean. My Dad used to tell me about it when I was little.

message 7: by Arctic (new)

Arctic | 571 comments Yes, I thought the mob scene was one of the most powerful mob mentality depictions I've read in awhile. War in its entirety is just bafflingly illogical and this scene shows the emotions that naturally arise in dealing with such insanity coming to a head.

About the mantra again, when I went back to look for it I noticed something interesting. The phrase is used several times throughout part 2, but each time it changes slightly to follow with the narrative. It ends up being an emotionally charged yet stark summary of this section:

He walked across the land until he came to the sea. (p. 162)
He walked across the land until he caught the taste of the sea. (p. 173)
He walked across the land until he fell in the ocean. (p. 190)

message 8: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Stirrat | 201 comments McEwan really seems to have an innate understanding of cadence, which, while not in the same immediate sense as Austen, is something he and Austen definitely share. I read NA until my eyes refused to stay open last night and her brilliant use of cadence in the discussions about the "horrors" was definitely foremost in my mind.

McEwan's seems to be a narrative device, while Austen's approach is a more traditional "speech writing" approach. As the president of the cadence-as-a-literary-device fan club, I adore both.

message 9: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) What do you guys think about Robbie's belief that Briony accused him because she felt her love for him was scorned?

Also, I don't think that as of this point in the novel we've learned that this whole thing is Briony writing Robbie's POV. Let's try to avoid spoilers, please!

message 10: by Dini, the master of meaning (last edited Jan 23, 2008 03:21AM) (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
About your question, Sarah, I think it's only natural for Robbie to believe that way because he can't think of any other reason for Briony to accuse him of the crime. However, when I read that part I actually thought it was unnecessary and might even take the focus away from Briony trying to 'protect' her sister. It just seemed to me like a shallower excuse.

I haven't seen the Atonement movie, but I'm really afraid that they will change some parts so that it will seem that Briony was influenced by childish jealousy when she accused Robbie. I hope that's not the case.

message 11: by Joey (new)

Joey | 26 comments I agree that it would seen natural for Robbie to think Briony was jealous in some way. He had so much time to ponder the reason why. And he NEEDED a reason why and hit upon the most likely in his mind. It possibly acts to allow him to villify her more as a vindictive child, instead of thinking of other reasons that are more internal and complicated on her side.

message 12: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 74 comments I just finished part 2 and wanted to pop in here and see the comments. The mob scene and the mother and her child in the farm field were particularly poignant for me. I overall "enjoyed" this part and read it quite fast. I am heading on to part 3 now. This book is much better than I inticipated.

message 13: by Meghan (last edited Jan 24, 2008 08:23AM) (new)

Meghan Okay, I've just started Part 2 last night. I'll comment on the questions posted later when I finish it.

Only 20 pages in, but I just want to say HURRAY because this part finally reads like a "normal" book. I find it really interesting that he chose to write in a different style in this part--limiting his voices to really, just Robbie (so far).

But I will say this, as much as I struggled with Part 1, I do find that this new style in Part 2 has lost some of this poetic qualities. I find that intriquing because I don't know what is missing but I feel that something is.

Also, what do you think about Robbie and Cecilia becoming the "writers" now? Is the art of letter writing dead (as they say) nowadays? Could a relationship like theirs exist in today's world of text messages and IM-ing? Would "U R kewl" have the same emotional impact as their coded letters of "I went to the library and tried to read" had? While I laugh at the "youngsters" slang, I can't discount their passion any more than I can discount my own at their age. So do words really count? Does the delivery system do? Or is it all about intent?

message 14: by Robbie (new)

Robbie Bashore | 592 comments Just judging from my brother's basic training experience back in 1982, I would say that clearly communication is important in the military, multiplied a thousand-fold in wartime. Whether in letter, IM, e-mail form or whatever, the communication makes a great difference. Of course, hopefully, the letters persist, because they would be the most easily portable and carried on one's person. I guess if the soldiers have computers available for communication, they probably have printers to make hard-copies, too.

message 15: by Robbie (new)

Robbie Bashore | 592 comments Oh, and I think the change in voice makes sense. One wouldn't expect a discouraged wartime soldier, made (hard? bitter?) by his time in prison to have such a girly voice as a young budding writer of romantic fantasy.

message 16: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Good points, Robbie and Meghan. Robbie, I had 2 cousins in the war in Iraq and it's amazing how much they crave contact from home. Letters, cards, care packages, short notes... it didn't matter to them as long as it was something to let them know that they were not forgotten. We used to send letters to everyone in my cousin's unit - even guys we didn't know. I got a bunch of my friends to send letters too. It didn't matter that they'd never met my cousin or the guys in his unit. The guys just needed something from home. Something to take them away, however momentarily, from the horrors they were seeing and living with.

message 17: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Robbie - I agree. But do you find it odd that he went from Part 1 being many points of view to Part 2 being only one person's? I have yet to start Part 3 so maybe there is a more clear reason as to why he chose to change his style. I just found it rather odd.

Compared to say, Cold Mountain, at least in that book, Frazier maintained the alternating voices throughout the entire book (even though that drove me insane while reading it).

message 18: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Okay, I loved the relationship between Robbie and Cecilia. It just felt real. I loved how he described how passionate their letters were, how sustaining they became, but when they actually met face-to-face, they lost the freedom that the anonymity of the letters provided.

"As the distance opened up between them, they understood how far they had run ahead of themselves in their letters. This moment had been imagined and desired for too long, and could not measure up."

Who can't relate on how build up is always better than the actual desired object?

message 19: by Meghan (new)

Meghan In response to Dini's questions - I do believe that McEwan does make this, in part, a powerful war novel. Two passages really struck me. They brought up two movie scenes that have always made me feel the desolation and futility of war.

"On old man in a fresh lawn suit, bow tie and carpet slippers shuffled by with the help of two sticks, advancing so slowly that even the traffic was passing him. He was panting hard. Wherever he was going he surely would not make it." (p. 203)

This made me think of the scene from Joy Luck Club, where Suyuan Woo was walking along the road with her twin babies. People were walking along carrying ridiculous items, wearing ridiculous clothes, because out of the panic and chaos they just grabbed and dashed. But you could tell, so many of them would not make it.

"Around the abandoned lorries they passed, supplies had been scattered by troops...tramped through typewriter ribbon spools...double-entry ledgers, consignments of tin desks and swivel chairs, cooking utensils..."(p. 205)

This makes me think of the movie Empire Of the Sun (starring a very young Christian Bale!) after the city had cleared out and Jamie is left to salvage what he can amongst the forgotten ruins.

But the most striking thing to me is no matter where you are--Europe, Asia, the US--war is war and its effects on people are unanimously alike. And we humans seem to respond in the same way to like situations.

message 20: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Heather - I absolutely agree with you regarding the mob scene. I was privately cheering Mace's bravery and quick-thinking in getting that guy out of there.

Courtney - I don't know much about war history. It's good to hear that this was an accurate portrayal. The more I read about WWII, the more you realize why people make such a big deal about it (as compared to say WWI).

message 21: by Meghan (new)

Meghan I thought it was normal for Robbie to try and rationalize why Briony did what she did. We humans need reasons for things.

message 22: by Shannon, the founder of fun (back from sabbatical) (new)

Shannon | 254 comments Mod
Courtney your comment about Dunkirk prompted me to look it up on wikipedia.

This really helped me put Part II in historical perspective.

This book has brought up some interesting memories and reflection for me. My husband Joe and I went through some tribulations to be together - we met in high school - I was a freshman and he was a senior. To put it briefly, my parents tried everything in their power to keep us apart. We did what we could to stay together and then he moved to Chicago and I moved to Milwaukee and it was close but never close enough. We wrote letters all the time - I can really relate to that desire to be with the person you love. Wondering if you can ever just "be together" without all of the things, people, and distance getting in the way. That sense of longing really hit me. I guess it gave me reason to really appreciate all that I take for granted now. Enough of the personal ramblings.

I am really anxious to see how the book ends. I'm about half way through III and I need to know what happens!!!

message 23: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Shannon, thank you so much for that research! It really does help keep Part 2 in perspective. I can understand the emotions much better.

Also, thanks for sharing your story too! My husband is from China and we had struggled for about a year and half trying to get him a visa approved to enter the US. I can understand some of your frustrations and longings. Although kudos to the both of you for sticking it out for as long as you did! That's really something to be proud of. It's also nice to hear a "good" love story. Sometimes good guys do win!

message 24: by Shannon, the founder of fun (back from sabbatical) (new)

Shannon | 254 comments Mod
Anytime Meghan!

Also thanks for the props. I'm looking back at my post and thinking man it sounds so romeo and juliet - and at that age it felt like that - lol.

Relationships are hard sometimes as I'm sure you know intimately with your own trials. Ultimately I think you have to have that strong knowing/belief that it is meant to work out. All the obstacles make your relationship strong. (and stepping down from my love soap box!)

message 25: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Well, it's kind of timely considering the next holiday coming up (and no, I don't mean Groundhog's Day...heh, I although I do love that movie).

And to bring this back to the book - Sarah asked me an interesting do (all of) you feel about the movie being marketed as a "romance" movie? Do you feel that this is misleading or is this story about love and loss?

Personally, I thought that the movie's marketing was very misleading for me. (And I know I should have known better to judge a book by a movie trailer...buuutttt...what can I say?) I felt that Cecilia's and Robbie's relationship were a minor part of this whole story. And it doesn't really match well with the title "Atonement". I kind of feel like it is a bait-and-switch almost (kind of like The English Patient. Kristin Scott Thomas' role in the movie is actually about two chapters' worth in the book. I felt rather cheated. I kind of sense that's the same with this movie? (I haven't seen it yet, so this may not be accurate.)

message 26: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I hate that it's marketed as a romance movie. My husband wouldn't go see it because he deemed it a "chick flick" but I actually think he'd really like it.

message 27: by Shannon, the founder of fun (back from sabbatical) (new)

Shannon | 254 comments Mod
I definitely think it is marketed as a romance movie. Just from the promos I wouldn't necessarily go see it and........ I don't think most men would want to see it unless they have a thing for Keira Knightley. And really the marketing for the movie made me not want to read the book.

message 28: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 74 comments I just saw the trailer for the movie last night on TV and was surprised too at how romantic they made it seem. I haven't seen the movie, but I'll rent it when the DVD comes out just to compare it to the book. If I hadn't read the book, I probably would want to see the movie more, but knowing the content of the book; there are a few scenes I'd just rather not see. Based on the trailer though, I would never think anything like that (rape) would have happened in the movie. I haven't really looked at the movie thread on this discussion as I was planning on renting the movie, but maybe I'll pop over there, because now I'm curious to see what people are saying.

message 29: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Becky, you don't really see a rape. It's more implied. Actually it's exactly how it is the the book; Briony shines her flashlight over and sees a hairy butt and then the man runs away, pulling his clothes on. The only really disturbing thing (to me) is when Briony's working in the hospital and talking to the soldier named Luc, but if you've read part 3 you know what's coming and when to avert your eyes. I also had to avert my eyes in the Dunkirk scene when they were shooting the horses. Not because it was bloody (it wasn't) but because it makes me too sad.

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