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Rory Book Discussions > Atonement - Part 3

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message 1: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) And.... go! lol

message 2: by Arctic (new)

Arctic | 571 comments thanks for making these threads, Sarah. I really am a lazy bum. heh.


Egads! I was not happy about the "twist" at the end. I feel like I've just sat through a WWII edition of the film Next. Here's a story. oh wait, just kidding, here's what really happened, wasn't my version better?

novelist as God is an interesting concept. interesting enough to base a book around though?

"The problem these fifty-nine years has been this: how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all."

message 3: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Yeah, I suck. I totally read the spoiler because I just don't give a crap about this book. I hate to say it. I voted for it. I really wanted to like it. And now I think it's going in the "abandoned" pile.

message 4: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Okay, I had to tease you because you always yell at me for doing that! heh

message 5: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Yeah but you did it in Harry Freaking Potter!

message 6: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Stirrat | 201 comments I had the same reaction to Atonement: The Movie. However, here, I knew it was coming and felt that at least part I prepared me for it. McEwan REALLY could have done a better job alluding to the fact that Briony is the author of the entire story in parts II and III because it is so easy to believe that, in fact, these things happened, despite the fact that he gives the reader hints at his overall concept in Part I.

I still really enjoyed the book, WAY more than the movie (except that I LOVE Vanessa Redgrave), but wondered "where was the editor???" throughout the last part.

Sarah -- I don't know how you restrained yourself with Meghan and Harry. I might have blown an artery! :)

message 7: by Dini, the master of meaning (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
I actually think the ending would've been too simple if Briony just wrote those letters, Robbie was cleared, problem solved, and everyone lived their separate lives. The real ending was so much more poignant because it was tragic, IMHO. What comes across is that sometimes you just can't undo the things you did -- you can wish things turned out differently and even write a book in which it did, but you can't change the past.

It's funny how in the other threads we were talking about how obvious McEwan made it seem that Paul Marshall committed the crime, but he didn't do the same with the ending. I guess that's why people call this kind of thing "a twist".

message 8: by Sera (new)

Sera Dini, I agree. The books is entitled Atonement for a reason. One of the themes is Briony's attmept to atone for her misjudgment. One of the ways in which she tries to do so is to take control over the story, but in the end, this is one matter that she will never be able to fix.

So what is one to do in such a situation? Arent' there things that we all do in life that can't be undone? Is there, however, a way in which to mitigate them or to find a way in which to put it behind us and to move on? What do you think Briony could have done to make amends?

message 9: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 1 comments Wow! I've been waiting for someone to read this book so I could discuss it. I really wanted Briony to say something at the wedding. It wouldn't have changed anything and no one would probably believe her. I still wanted her to voice her crime to Marshall. I wanted her to trash him and his Rolls. Even though it is her fault that the lie continued for so many years.

message 10: by Summer (new)

Summer | 34 comments I am a nursing student and this passage is as true as it was during WWII (just replace "ward sister" with "nursing instructor" and subsitute a few names-it could be an entry in my journal):
"Briony's state of mind largely depending on how she stood that hour in the ward sister's opinion. She felt a coolness in her stomach whenever Sister Drummond's gaze fell on her. It was impossible to know whether you had done well. Briony dreaded her bad opinion. Praise was unheard of. The best one could hope for was indifference."

message 11: by Beth (new)

Beth | 173 comments yeah, as a nurse, those parts brought back lots of memories. My greatest hope each day during clinical training was to just complete my tasks without being noticed. To be noticed by your instructor was death.

message 12: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Stirrat | 201 comments I have to say that Briony learning to be a nurse during the war may be my favorite section of this book from a plot and character perspective. I was fascinated by everything she learned and felt the pace as she waited for the soldiers to arrive from Dunkirk was fantastic. I especially liked the sort of "everyday" Londoner feel during the war -- made me run off and order several books about living during the war from amazon.

I know the point of the section is to show the things she went through to attempt to make herself back into a good person, but his ability to captivate as a storyteller really seemed in high form here.

message 13: by Arctic (new)

Arctic | 571 comments I'm reading all these thread updates for earlier sections of Atonement and I really want to comment but have to hold myself back.

How has knowing Briony is the author of earlier sections changed your perspective on the record of events? How much of it did she make up?

Before everything had to be taken as fact, assuming an omniscient narrator. Now we have to view everything as seen through Briony's eyes. It's interesting how she describes her mother and the thoughts she gives to her.

And could she have been intentionally vilifying Mr. Marshall in her accounts of the nursery to defame him and direct her reader? How can she know that any of that actually happened?

It's almost as if we need a whole new set of threads for earlier parts of the book.

message 14: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 74 comments I just finished the book a couple hours ago and I'm still processing the ending. At first, I kind of slammed the book shut because I was mad at it. The more I think about it, the more I see the genious of the whole thing. I never would have guessed Briony was making this stuff up about meeting her sister and Robbie again. Since I'm much more of a happy ending kind of person, I wish I hadn't even read the 1999 chapter.

I really enjoyed Part 3 and was really liking Briony and was proud of her. Kudos to those of you who are nurses. I wish I were the type of special person it takes to be a nurse, but when I tried I fainted during a surgery and just couldn't get past the whole blood and guts thing.

message 15: by Sarah (last edited Jan 27, 2008 08:39PM) (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I finally finished the book and I didn't like the ending until I came here and read all your comments. Now, I think it was a good ending. Although I really want to know what happened to captain? Mace and the guy he rescued in part one.


When reading part two I actually wrote in a margin that I thought Robbie would die on the beach and never get to see Cecelia again. I was surprised when he "showed up" in Cecelia's apartment and thought the reference to the cottage was random and suspicious. But I was still surprised to find out that Briony made the whole thing up.

Part one gets only one star from me, and parts two and three get three stars. So I'm going to average my rating to a two star rating since part one took up half the book.

message 16: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) MORE SPOILERS.... So Meghan, stop reading this until you've finished the book... :P

What do you guys think about Lola marrying Paul? Why would she do that? Do you think Paul raped her or that Briony just walked in on them having sex, and maybe Lola was too young and immature to understand what she'd done? Maybe she was crying because she felt dirty or sinful or something? Or did she marry him because of the money? I just think it's odd that someone would marry their rapist.

message 17: by Arielle (new)

Arielle | 120 comments THAT'S exactly what I wondered! First I thought maybe it was rape, but why marry him? Especially if she had lingering suspicions that he was her attacker.

message 18: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Thanks Sarah for the warning! I'm not reading any of the posts until I finish the book.


Okay, so I'm about half way done with Part 3. I want to smack McEwan on the head with his book. Oy. To consciously put us through Part 1 and write it knowing all its faults is part genius and part masochist (or is that sadist? Whichever inflicts pain). But man was that one heck of a twist. I grudingly give the man some props. grumble grumble grumble

message 19: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Which twist? There's more than one...

message 20: by Dini, the master of meaning (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
Sarah, I think that's one of the things that McEwan left out for us to ponder by ourselves. My assumption is that Paul did rape Lola, but as you said, she was too young and immature back then. Maybe later on Paul put it into her head that she insinuated him, that it was what she asked for. I mean, he seemed like that kind of manipulative bastard.

But on the other hand, as Heather brilliantly pointed out, the whole story had actually been chronicled by Briony. How much of it were facts, how much were guesses or assumptions, or pure fabrication? For instance, how would she know about Paul & Lola's creepy first conversation in the nursery?

I finished this book about two weeks ago but kept picking it up again to look up parts that you guys mentioned in the discussions and thinking about them all over again. You guys are so great!

message 21: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Or about Paul's dirty dream about his sisters... good point!

message 22: by Robbie (new)

Robbie Bashore | 592 comments See movie comments.

message 23: by Meghan (last edited Jan 28, 2008 01:16PM) (new)

Meghan ok Sarah, maybe I'm slow. There's more than one twist? I'm talking about the author's voice.

Oh are you talking about who raped Lola? I didn't think that was a twist.

message 24: by Meghan (last edited Jan 28, 2008 01:50PM) (new)

Meghan Okay, I'm FINALLY done with this (pardon my french) stupid book. I kind of agree with Heather's comments (way back at the beginning of this thread). I do feel like I need to reassess everything now.

That said, I can see why everyone says this is such a wonderfully written book. In lessons in writing, this would be a good example. That McEwan could write the beginning knowingly inserting flaws takes a seasoned writer.

But my problem is I'm not a writer. I'm a reader. And for me, it's never about the craftsmanship of the writing. I can appreciate good writing. I can tell when something isn't well written. But I'm the kind of reader that is story-driven. If you don't craft a quality story, than you've lost me as a reader. I would much rather read a poorly constructed book that tells a good story than a well-executed book about nothing.

So while I understand that this whole story is told through Briony's eyes, (no wonder Lola sounded like she didn't know who attacked her. It was written by Briony and that's how SHE heard Lola's comments.), I was never invested in any of these characters. I was no more "surprised" that Robbie was alive any more than I would have been if he had him die on the beaches in France. I just couldn't get myself to care if they all fell off a cliff or lived happily ever after.

message 25: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) No, I was talking about Lola marrying Paul.

message 26: by Sera (new)

Sera LOL, Meghan, I've had that feeling many times about books. As I have said previously, I read this book about 5 or so years ago, and I remember the backlash that it had at the book club of which I was a member at that time. It's a polarizing piece of work, not for its subject matter but for it's difficulty to wade through, which is why I have such difficulty recommending it. My neighborhood book club selected it for the March read, so I'm curious to hear what that group has to say.

I liked the book, because for me it was about atoning for one's mistakes, and that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can't. At some point, we have to forgive ourselves so perhaps Briony telling the story in her own words is the way in which she learns to forgive herself.

message 27: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Let us know what your group says Sera! I'm curious too.

I do have to say that this is a very good lesson for us all to learn about the consequences of quick judgment. How often do I make a snap assessment based on what I see (but not knowing what really is going on)? How do I treat that person (or persons) because of that misunderstanding? Could I have avoided hurt feelings or false accusations had I just taken the time to stop and find out the facts first (if possible)? Or at least given a person the benefit of the doubt until I had better information. It's making me think about the need for compassion.

message 28: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Do you think that part of Briony's "punishment" for her crime is that she was unable to publish her book in her lifetime? It seems like, even though she had others published, that she'd want to see that one published most of all. And since Lola was sure to outlive her, it wasn't likely.

message 29: by Meghan (new)

Meghan I don't. I think her punishment was being cut off from her sister. I think she realized her writing wasn't as important in the grand scheme of things. It was more of a way to give herself release. But she would always know that her relationship with Cecilia was because of choices she made, and nothing could change that.

message 30: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Okay, so the definition of "atonement" is "reparation made for an injury, wrong, or sin."

Do you think Briony achieved atonement? Or is this something that she must pay for her whole life?

message 31: by Sera (new)

Sera I don't think that Briony achieved atonement. However, if you agree, do you think that there was something that she could have done that she didn't do that would have helped with this achievement?

message 32: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Sera, I agree with you. However, I'm wondering if she could ever "obtain" it. She can never give Robbie back those 3 years in spent in prison. She can't give him the life he thought he was about to have.

But on the flip side, one has to ask, but had he gone to medical school instead of prison, would he have been able to live through Dunkirk? One has to imagine that his time in prison had given him the ability to take his mind elsewhere to avoid the insanity that was where he was at. Also, would he and Cecilia have made it? Would their love have been so strong (or at least strong enough) for him to have that single drive to "come back"? And even if Robbie had gone to medical school, would her parents have allowed a union between them? And if not, would Cecilia felt the same desire to spurn them the way she did? Would class differences be the same motivator as injustice?

I don't know. Part of me thinks this story would not have ended this way had Briony not accused Robbie.

But I do think Briony could have done a better job at repairing her relationship with Cecilia had she not waited 5 years. But on the other hand, while they think 18 is old enough, I think what the heck do teenagers know?

message 33: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Well, Briony tried reconciling with Cecelia sooner but Cecelia wouldn't speak to any of her family.

I know the reason Robbie joined the army was so he could get out of prison early but I think he would have joined anyway, only then as an officer or a medic. During WWII the only people who didn't join were people with medical conditions (4F).

message 34: by Sera (new)

Sera Good points, women. As I read them, I was thinking that maybe part of the atonement theme is forgiving someone when they offer it to you. Therefore, to Meghan's point, could she ever "obtain" it - well, I guess that brings us to Cecilia. If she isn't willing to forgive Briony, then Briony can't obtain atonement unless she is willing to forgive herself and move on. And, maybe she couldn't do so until the others forgave her.

message 35: by Meghan (new)

Meghan How do you feel about Briony (and Cecilia) breaking from their parents so completely? Do you think that would have happened eventually? And what do you think about Jack writing Briony to tell her of Paul and Lola's marriage? Was there something Freudian behind it or just an "fyi" kind of thing? What do you think of her going to their wedding? And then seeing them late in life? Do you feel that Paul's philanthropy and Lola remaining married to him were their "atonement"? Or are they just completely selfish people who just lived their life they were given?

message 36: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I don't know what to think about Paul and Lola. But I think that Briony and Cecelia would have broken from their parents anyway. With Jack always at work and Emily always lying down with a migraine, they never had time to develop close relationships. I was surprised that Cecelia was not speaking to Leon though.

message 37: by Sara W (new)

Sara W (sarawesq) Meghan wrote:

"Okay, so I'm about half way done with Part 3. I want to smack McEwan on the head with his book. Oy. To consciously put us through Part 1 and write it knowing all its faults is part genius and part masochist (or is that sadist? Whichever inflicts pain). But man was that one heck of a twist. I grudingly give the man some props. grumble grumble grumble"

I completely agree with that statement. I hated Part 1 of this book, and now to find out it was deliberate makes me think it was pretty brillant (even though I still find it annoying). McEwan summed up in that letter to Briony everything I couldn't stand about Part 1.


I just literally finished the book, and I was so shocked with the idea that Robbie and Cecilia actually died that I had to get on here to confirm it. I read those last couple of pages probably 4 times to let my mind absorb it. I guess it was kind of odd how he just came out of the bedroom in the one scene, but I didn't really question it. During that party, I kept waiting for a reference to grandkids of Robbie and Cecilia's or even to them being there. I guess I wanted it to work out. I didn't think that I liked any of the characters, but I found myself very sad with the ending. I liked Briony a lot more in the last half of the book than the first half.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I hated it yet liked it at the same time. I feel like I would have to read it again to actually try to understand it.

message 38: by Shannon, the founder of fun (back from sabbatical) (new)

Shannon | 254 comments Mod
ARGH! When I finished the book last night I slammed it down on the coffee table. I was so angry that I was taken on this ride and the ending happened the way it did. It took me awhile to really understand it. Like Sara said above, I had to reread a lot of the last couple of pages to "get it". I was thinking so none of this stuff really happened it was all Briony's creation. I think if I did another read through it would make a lot more sense and I'd have a better understanding of it all.

Briony is a character you can understand but really hate. I think children make up these fantasy scenarios in their heads and they are capable of damaging hurtful lies. Maybe why I hate this character so much is that I can relate to her at that age on creating stories and lying. I went through a good story/lying phase myself 9-13. Looking back I wondered why I had this need to create these stories and really I guess it was an attention getting mechanism. I guess Briony was very unlucky because her lie was so tragically life altering. And even though she grew up and moved beyond this phase she must deal with the consequences of her child self. What a horrible burden to carry your entire life.

I feel as though I'm still processing my feelings towards this book. I guess I feel manipulated and mislead, but I guess that fits in perfectly with the whole theme of the lie. Briony lied and accused the wrong man of a crime. The author (Briony) lies and manipulates the reader about the true story - maybe that is why or how we can relate to Cecelia's anguish.

While I don't "like" this book, it makes you think and it brings about emotions - isn't that what great literature is supposed to do?

message 39: by Arctic (new)

Arctic | 571 comments great comment Shannon! I never really thought about how Briony's lies were paralleled and enhanced by the lie of the book itself. Really interesting observation. Thanks for pointing that out.

and yeah, I agree about your final statement too. I had the same reaction of frustration at the manipulation of it and I really didn't like the book because of that when I first read it. The more I think about it though, the more I realize what a good writer McEwan must be to have put this thing together so neatly and be able to get such reactions from people. So I ended up bumping my rating up a star after about three weeks of contemplation. I'm still annoyed, but I gotta respect the guy.

message 40: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Ditto what Heather said. I love what you said Shannon about empathizing with Cecilia. That's so true (for me) and I never realized it.

I think I must, like Cecilia then, cut myself from this book and never speak to it again! ha!

message 41: by Shannon, the founder of fun (back from sabbatical) (new)

Shannon | 254 comments Mod
Thanks Heather and Meghan.

Meghan, ha! I won't be speaking to my book anytime soon either. However I did convince Joe to go see the movie with me - maybe we will have some time this weekend.

message 42: by Arctic (new)

Arctic | 571 comments Shannon, I just read your review of this book and wanted to point out another great comment you made regarding whether or not Briony can achieve atonement or not:

"I wanted to be able to forgive Briony for her actions but in some ways she never evolved from her childhood self. She continued to create stories that were in fact lies and distortions of the truth. Wouldn't she have been better off admitting her crime and the truth as it was? She still is creating fantasy scenarios to deal with tragic reality."

I hadn't considered that, but you're completely right.

message 43: by Shannon, the founder of fun (back from sabbatical) (new)

Shannon | 254 comments Mod
That's just the conclusion I came to. It just seemed that in order to reach atonement you must be able to admit what you've done and the actual effects of the crime - I don't see how her recreation of the truth helps anything.

There is something that really bothers me about the 1999 section. So what she's an old woman with a long successful writing career - how does her novel really pay tribute to Cecelia and Robbie? By the time it is published she and all the characters in it are gone - is that her way of rewriting history? All the while the truth disappears forever with her, Paul, and Lola.

message 44: by Sara W (new)

Sara W (sarawesq) Is it possible to hate the story but really like the book itself? Because that's what I find myself doing. I still hate that Cecelia and Robbie die, and I still find Briony pretty annoying (and I flat out can't stand her in part 1 - actually, I flat out can't stand part 1), but at the same time I find the twists (in particular, them dying and the letter to Briony from the publishers) to be so thought provoking that I can't help but admire the book and the writing. I even bumped up my rating of this book because I'm still thinking about it days later (it doesn't help that I'm reading Northanger Abbey right now and keep getting reminded of Briony).

message 45: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Sara, I think it is possible, because I think that maybe I agree with you! I flat out hated part one too. It took me forever to get through but, like you, I'm still thinking about it. I may need to go bump up my rating too, but I was so mad when I finished that I only gave it 2 stars.

I usually devour books in a couple of days, especially one the size of Atonement, but it took me nearly a month to get through. So to me, that was a sign that I didn't really like it that well.

message 46: by Meghan (last edited Feb 02, 2008 11:38AM) (new)

Meghan Sara, I do think it's possible (although not for me and this book). I HATED reading Cold Mountain, but after discussing it at my book club, I realized I loved it. The writing really got me even though the story didn't. I think that shows what a good writer the author is, when you can look beyond the flaws and appreciate the skill it took in crafting the story. Except for this book (for me) because I really didn't like the story. At all. But I can appreciate the hoopla that people give McEwan.

message 47: by Dini, the master of meaning (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
Shannon, I agree with you. I think I would've appreciated Briony more if she had boldly admitted what she'd done in front of the court and confronted Paul and Lola. Even though it might be useless and too late because Robbie had died in the war, she could've cleared up his name. Or even better, she could've spoke up way earlier when she began having doubts during the trial--the part where she felt like a bride approaching her wedding.

I totally get why some of you think this is a good story but you don't actually like it. That's quite of a dilemma for me in rating books in Goodreads. Mostly I ended up rating some books with "liked it" or "really liked it" although I actually wanted to say "I don't really like it, but I gotta admit it's good".

message 48: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I just saw this on Wikipedia. I thought it was interesting because I'd never considered the significance of the vase.

The significance or "meaning" of the vase, is Cecilia and Robbie's relationship. Since the vase was given to the family by Uncle Clem, it represents family, and how Cecilia and Robbie grew up together as children. During the period of time that they do not speak to each other, a part of the vase was broken, but later mended, which signifies the moment between them in the library. Five years later after Robbie is arrested, Cecilia finds out from Briony that the vase has broken for good, which foreshadows what happens in the end: Cecilia and Robbie have both died.

message 49: by theduckthief (new)

theduckthief It's interesting to see how negatively some people responded to this book. I loved the rug pull of an ending. It made me think of the book in a different way.

I was a little frustrated with the wordiness but impressed with how much McEwan was able to make me hate Paul Marshall.

message 50: by Robbie (new)

Robbie Bashore | 592 comments I kind of liked the ending, too. During most of the "fake ending" part, I kept thinking it was unrealistic and everything was too tidy. It made much more sense in the end. I also actually thought the idea of giving them the ending they *should* have had was kind of sweet. I mean, what else could she do?

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