Atonement

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Atonement

by Ian Mcewan

Knopf Canada | November 5, 2002 | Trade Paperback

Atonement is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 20.
The novel opens on a sweltering summer day in 1935 at the Tallis family’s mansion in the Surrey countryside. Thirteen-year-old Briony has written a play in honor of the visit of her adored older brother Leon; other guests include her three young cousins -- refugees from their parent’s marital breakup -- Leon’s friend Paul Marshall, the manufacturer of a chocolate bar called “Amo” that soldiers will be able to carry into war, and Robbie Turner, the son of the family charlady whose brilliantly successful college career has been funded by Mr. Tallis. Jack Tallis is absent from the gathering; he spends most of his time in London at the War Ministry and with his mistress. His wife Emily is a semi-invalid, nursing chronic migraine headaches. Their elder daughter Cecilia is also present; she has just graduated from Cambridge and is at home for the summer, restless and yearning for her life to really begin. Rehearsals for Briony’s play aren’t going well; her cousin Lola has stolen the starring role, the twin boys can’t speak the lines properly, and Briony suddenly realizes that her destiny is to be a novelist, not a dramatist.

In the midst of the long hot afternoon, Briony happens to be watching from a window when Cecilia strips off her clothes and plunges into the fountain on the lawn as Robbie looks on. Later that evening, Briony thinks she sees Robbie attacking Cecilia in the library, she reads a note meant for Cecilia, her cousin Lola is sexually assaulted, and she makes an accusation that she will repent for the rest of her life.

The next two parts of Atonement shift to the spring of 1940 as Hitler’s forces are sweeping across the Low Countries and into France. Robbie Turner, wounded, joins the disastrous British retreat to Dunkirk. Instead of going up to Cambridge to begin her studies, Briony has become a nurse in one of London’s military hospitals. The fourth and final section takes place in 1999, as Briony celebrates her 77th birthday with the completion of a book about the events of 1935 and 1940, a novel called Atonement.

In its broad historical framework Atonement is a departure from McEwan’s earlier work, and he loads the story with an emotional intensity and a gripping plot reminiscent of the best nineteenth-century fiction. Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class, the novel is a profoundly moving exploration of shame and forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 384 pages, 8.01 × 5.15 × 0.77 in

Published: November 5, 2002

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676974562

ISBN - 13: 9780676974560

Found in: Fiction and Literature
This Booker Prize nominee has it all – family, intrigue, romance and some twists and turns which took my breath away.

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Absorbing Ignore the summary on the back cover as it can be a bit misleading to the plot. Quite simply put, this book is a masterpiece. Ian McEwan can write about very painful moments in such a beautiful way. It truly touched my heart.
Date published: 2011-06-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Falls Flat This is the story of Briony Tallis and the effect a simple statement makes on the lives of those around her. Set during the years surrounding World War Two, young Briony learns that being an adult is more than just sounding like one. There are visitors to the family estate and she witnesses two events, both of which she mis-interprets. Almost immediately Briony realizes that she has made a mistake, but waits years to make amends. This story left me feeling flat. It didn't seem to go anywhere. Briony came across to me as a spoiled, rich little girl who wanted all the attention focused on her and when she didn't get her way, she stomped off. When that didn't work, she made accusations that drew all attention to her and kept it there. Spoiler Alert As for making amends/atonement, all she does is write a couple of letters, have them notarized and she's free. I was hoping for a public announcement or at least a scarlet 'L' emblazoned across her chest. Nope, a simple "I'm sorry" and that's it. I did listen to an abridged version, so perhaps I missed some important details, but if that's the case, then the editor did a shoddy job. Nothing important should be removed in an abridgement. This book was read by Josephine Bailey. I didn't like her voice; I found it distracting, too quavery. She was very clear, I could understand every word, but I just didn't like her voice. Even though this book didn't work for me, I do plan to read another book by Mr. McEwan in the future.
Date published: 2011-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely great! I love this book, it was the first book I ever read when I moved to Canada. My English was poor, and I had an ESL teacher helping me, but I really enjoyed it back then. Now (7 years latter) I love this book even more. Atonement is the reason why i LOVE reading.
Date published: 2010-07-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderfully written. Wonderfully written. McEwan's prose is really strong. He can go on for ten pages about the color of the carpet in a room and it never gets boring. But this book didn't need to be as long as it is. McEwan could have cut 100 pages and still told the story very well. However, I enjoyed this (much more than Amsterdam and Saturday) and would recommend Atonement to a friend.
Date published: 2010-04-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Pretty boring The concept for this book is great, unfortunately I found it hard to get through.
Date published: 2010-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant, Powerful Atonement is an amazing book. The characters were very well written (Briony especially), first of all. No matter how detestable their actions, you still sympathise with them. The plot isn't the fastest going plot, so don't go in looking for a Dan Brown, because you'll only be dissapointed. Back to the book: It is a very powerful look at atonement, how one action can affect people's entire lives, and it also looks at how the real world and fiction are two completely different things, which, without spoiling anything, leads to one of the most astonishing plot twists I've ever read. This is an amazing book, and I recommend it to absolutely everyone. WARNING: The book is rather depressing
Date published: 2007-11-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Little to Enthrall the Reader It has usually been my experience that a good read seldom becomes a great film. In the case of this novel, however the author's constant repetitive foreshadowing and details of social milieux leave little to the reader's intuition. Having read much more nonfiction than fiction, a story must be given a logical, credible foundation to build suspense and leave the reader enthralled. Hopefully the film makers will improve on the author's presentation.
Date published: 2007-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quiet, delicate beauty I wasn't sure what to expect with Atonement; someone had recommended it to me and it took me a long time to finally get around to reading it. Once I did, I had finished it in three days. There is no one quite like Ian McEwan when it comes to generating emotion through what would seem regular writing. He masks his talent well, however, as his writing is far from ordinary and Atonement is inexplicably touching. I absolutely fell in love with Robbie Turner--tormented soul who only wanted love. You can relate with the people he creates. I was sad to see Hollywood take on its own interpretation of the novel--I refuse to watch it as I think it will take away from what the book does for an individual. Fantastic.
Date published: 2007-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Story that Has It All This Booker Prize nominee has it all – family, intrigue, romance and some twists and turns which took my breath away.
Date published: 2007-09-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What a waste of time! About 140 pages into the book and I was still wondering when the bloody plot line would start. For all the detail and description from Briony's perspective, it seemed to be wasted towards the end of the book. Once you hit part 2, it felt that Mr.McEwan realized he had a deadline and rushed through or perhaps got bored as I did and just wanted it to end. Sadly, it had such potential to be a poignant book, but falls short and ends up anticlimatic.
Date published: 2007-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic! I loved this book! I couldn't put this book down, it is an intensely gripping and unique story, emotionally riveting! I want to re-read it again already and will be first in line to see the feature film that is coming out in December 2007, based on the book. The film looks to be as fabulous as the book! I think James McAvoy and Keira Knightley are perfectly cast as Robbie and Cecilia. READ THIS BOOK!!
Date published: 2007-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gripping I found this book slow to start. It is at times, long winded and rather descriptive but once the story started I couldn't out it down. You begin to want the characters to succeed, and once one cares about the people in the story you know you are reading a well written book. I so desperately wanted a happy ending for them. This book broke my heart and put it back together again.
Date published: 2006-06-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Looonnnnngggg Wow, I've read some books that take some time to get into, so I gave it a shot. Each time I thought that the story was to begin, a new one bagan. The amount of words in the book could be decreased by 50% and still tell the same story. I would not recommend this book!
Date published: 2006-01-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Life is too short This is one of the worst books I've ever read. I'm sorry that I won't ever be able to get back the hours of my life that were spent reading it. For all the build-up, the ending was not nearly satisfying enough and I would caution others to think carefully before reading this selection.
Date published: 2005-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unforgettable This is the book that broke my heart. Though the first 50 pages scream for an editor - it's well worth your patience. Nearly 24 months after reading it, I'm still haunted by the outcome.
Date published: 2005-04-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Took forever to get through Part 1. It me a long time to get through Part 1. I find it difficult to finish a book if it does not grab my attention in the first twenty or so pages. Once I got through Part 1, I did enjoy Part 2 and 3. To be honest the one reason I finished this book was for my bookclub, otherwise I probably would not have finished it.
Date published: 2005-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Tragedy The best book I read in 2003. A wonderful tragedy which reminded me of Thomas Hardy's works. A fascinating look at the tremendously damaging effects of a criminal accusation.
Date published: 2004-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing There are so many things that I've enjoyed in this book. I am amazed at McEwan's ability to create unforgettable characters, especially Briony, who's complexity I haven't really quite figured out. McEwan explores the thoughts and emotions of the characters in such depth, that you can't help but understand and feel what each character is feeling. The story is told in various perspectives, which do not reveal viewpoints in a sequence, but rather at different places, at different times; more like flashbacks. So it was interesting to read later on what had really happened in the situation from the perspective of a certain character. The ending was great; it had not ended the way I had thought it would, but I'm glad McEwan decided to end the book the way it did, realistically and truthfully, although sad. A truly wonderful book!!!
Date published: 2004-03-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from When will the story begin? As a member of a book club that meets on a monthly basis, this appeared to be a great choice. Was I wrong? In actuality it was one of the worst choices in four years. It dragged on and on in such intricate detail and the story never seemed to unfold. A huge disappointment!
Date published: 2003-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing!! I finished this book in two days because I just couldn't put it down. I loved everything about it and I will definitely read it again. If you want an amazing story that has it all, then read this book!
Date published: 2003-02-11

– More About This Product –

Atonement

by Ian Mcewan

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 384 pages, 8.01 × 5.15 × 0.77 in

Published: November 5, 2002

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676974562

ISBN - 13: 9780676974560

Read from the Book

CHAPTER ONE The play, for which Briony had designed the posters, programmes and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crepe paper, was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch. When the preparations were complete, she had nothing to do but contemplate her finished draft and wait for the appearance of her cousins from the distant north. There would be time for only one day of rehearsal before her brother arrived. At some moments chilling, at others desperately sad, the play told a tale of the heart whose message, conveyed in a rhyming prologue, was that love which did not build a foundation on good sense was doomed. The reckless passion of the heroine, Arabella, for a wicked foreign count is punished by ill fortune when she contracts cholera during an impetuous dash towards a seaside town with her intended. Deserted by him and nearly everybody else, bed-bound in a garret, she discovers in herself a sense of humour. Fortune presents her a second chance in the form of an impoverished doctor — in fact, a prince in disguise who has elected to work among the needy. Healed by him, Arabella chooses judiciously this time, and is rewarded by reconciliation with her family and a wedding with the medical prince on `a windy sunlit day in spring''. Mrs Tallis read the seven pages of The Trials of Arabella in her bedroom, at her dressing table, with the
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From the Publisher

The novel opens on a sweltering summer day in 1935 at the Tallis family’s mansion in the Surrey countryside. Thirteen-year-old Briony has written a play in honor of the visit of her adored older brother Leon; other guests include her three young cousins -- refugees from their parent’s marital breakup -- Leon’s friend Paul Marshall, the manufacturer of a chocolate bar called “Amo” that soldiers will be able to carry into war, and Robbie Turner, the son of the family charlady whose brilliantly successful college career has been funded by Mr. Tallis. Jack Tallis is absent from the gathering; he spends most of his time in London at the War Ministry and with his mistress. His wife Emily is a semi-invalid, nursing chronic migraine headaches. Their elder daughter Cecilia is also present; she has just graduated from Cambridge and is at home for the summer, restless and yearning for her life to really begin. Rehearsals for Briony’s play aren’t going well; her cousin Lola has stolen the starring role, the twin boys can’t speak the lines properly, and Briony suddenly realizes that her destiny is to be a novelist, not a dramatist.

In the midst of the long hot afternoon, Briony happens to be watching from a window when Cecilia strips off her clothes and plunges into the fountain on the lawn as Robbie looks on. Later that evening, Briony thinks she sees Robbie attacking Cecilia in the library, she reads a note meant for Cecilia, her cousin Lola is sexually assaulted, and she makes an accusation that she will repent for the rest of her life.

The next two parts of Atonement shift to the spring of 1940 as Hitler’s forces are sweeping across the Low Countries and into France. Robbie Turner, wounded, joins the disastrous British retreat to Dunkirk. Instead of going up to Cambridge to begin her studies, Briony has become a nurse in one of London’s military hospitals. The fourth and final section takes place in 1999, as Briony celebrates her 77th birthday with the completion of a book about the events of 1935 and 1940, a novel called Atonement.

In its broad historical framework Atonement is a departure from McEwan’s earlier work, and he loads the story with an emotional intensity and a gripping plot reminiscent of the best nineteenth-century fiction. Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class, the novel is a profoundly moving exploration of shame and forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.

About the Author

“It caused me a lot of anxiety,” McEwan has said of this, his ninth novel, which he had been waiting years to write. He is a careful writer, with a tendency to worry about how his books will turn out. This one emerged slowly; only after 14 months of ‘doodling’ did he have a paragraph and a half with which to begin the book, now the start of the second chapter: Cecilia standing in the doorway with a bunch of flowers, and Robbie outside. McEwan likes to take a particularly potent, decisive event bringing the protagonists together -- the snatching of a three-year-old girl in The Child In Time , a tragic ballooning incident at the start of Enduring Love -- and let the emotions develop from there. Atonement is his most deeply emotional book to date, and he is pleased that it turned out a moving love story; he has more often been seen as a master of the gruesome, the disturbing and the morbid after his early novels in the 1970’s. His first collection of stories, First Love, Last Rites , was published in 1975 and immediately won him the nickname Ian Macabre. The sense of menace is present from the beginning of his latest novel, and darkness continues through the 1940 sections, but there is a warmth not usually associated with McEwan’s work. “At my age,” he says, “there is an obligation to celebrate the good things in life.” He found his own way towards a love of fiction; there weren’t many books at home when he was gr
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From Our Editors

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

Editorial Reviews

"McEwan''s Atonement …truly dazzles, proving to be as much about the art and morality of writing as it is about the past…. The middle section of Atonement , the two vividly realized set pieces of Robbie''s trek to the Channel and Briony''s experiences with the wounded evacuees of Dunkirk, would alone have made an outstanding novel…. There is wonderful writing throughout as McEwan weaves his many themes — the accidents of contingency, the sins of absent fathers, class oppression -- into his narrative, and in a magical love scene." —Brian Bethune, Maclean’s "… Atonement is a deliriously great read, but more than that it is a great book.… There are characters you follow with breathless anxiety; a plot worthy of a top-drawer suspense novelist, complete with jolting reversals; language that unspools seemingly effortlessly, yet leaves a minefield of still-to-be-detonated nouns and verbs…. rife with…unforgettable tableaux…." — The Globe and Mail "What a joy it is to read a book that shocks one into remembering just how high one''s literary standards should be.… a tour de force by one of England''s best novelists…. Atonement is a spectacular book; as good a novel -- and more satisfying…-- than anything McEwan has written….sublimely written narrative…. The Dunkirk passage is a stupendous piece of writing, a set piece that could easily stand on its own.…
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Bookclub Guide

1. What sort of social and cultural setting does the Tallis house create for the novel? What is the mood of the house, as described in Chapter 12? What emotions and impulses are being acted upon or repressed by its inhabitants? How does the careful attention to detail affect the pace of Part One, and what is the effect of the acceleration of plot events as it nears its end?

2. 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?

3. 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?

4. What happens between Robbie and Cecilia at the fountain? What symbolic role does Uncle Clem’s precious vase play in the novel? Is it significant that the vase is glued together by Cecilia, and broken finally during the war by Betty as she readies the house to accept evacuees?

5. Having read Robbie’s note to Cecilia, Briony thinks about its implications for her new idea of herself as a writer: “No more princesses! . . . With the letter, something elemental, brutal, perhaps even criminal had been introduced, some principle of darkness, and even in her excitement over the possibilities, she did not doubt that her sister was in some way threatened and would need her help” [pp. 106–7]. Why is Robbie’s uncensored letter so offensive within the social context in which it is read? Why is Cecilia not offended by it?

6. The scene in the library is one of the most provocative and moving descriptions of sex in recent fiction. How does the fact that it is narrated from Robbie’s point of view affect how the reader feels about what happens to him shortly afterwards? Is it understandable that Briony, looking on, perceives this act of love as an act of violence?

7. Why does Briony stick to her story with such unwavering commitment? Does she act entirely in error in a situation she is not old enough to understand, or does she act, in part, on an impulse of malice, revenge, or self-importance? At what point does she develop the empathy to realize what she has done to Cecilia and Robbie?

8. How does Leon, with his life of “agreeable nullity” [p. 103], compare with Robbie in terms of honor, intelligence, and ambition? What are the qualities that make Robbie such an effective romantic hero? What are the ironies inherent in the comparative situations of the three young men present -- Leon, Paul Marshall, and Robbie?

9. Lola has a critical role in the story’s plot. What are her motivations? Why does she tell Briony that her brothers caused the marks on her wrists and arms [see pp. 109–13]? Why does she allow Briony to take over her story when she is attacked later in the evening [see pp. 153–60]? Why does Briony decide not to confront Lola and Paul Marshall at their wedding five years later?

10. The novel’s epigraph is taken from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, in which a naïve young woman, caught up in fantasies from the Gothic fiction she loves to read, imagines that her host in an English country house is a villain. In Austen’s novel Catherine Norland’s mistakes are comical and have no serious outcome, while in Atonement, Briony’s fantasies have tragic effects upon those around her. What is McEwan implying about the power of the imagination, and its potential for harm when unleashed into the social world? Is he suggesting, by extension, that Hitler’s pathological imagination was a driving force behind World War II?

11. 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 and Briony’s experience at the military hospital?

12. 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?

13. About changing the fates of Robbie and Cecilia in her final version of the book, Briony says, “Who would want to believe that the young lovers never met again, never fulfilled their love? Who would want to believe that, except in the service of the bleakest realism?” [p. 350] McEwan’s Atonement has two endings -- one in which the fantasy of love is fulfilled, and one in which that fantasy is stripped away. What is the emotional effect of this double ending? Is Briony right in thinking that “it isn’t weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness, a stand against oblivion and despair, to let my lovers live and to unite them at the end” [p. 351]?

14. Why does McEwan return to the novel’s opening with the long-delayed performance of The Trials of Arabella, Briony’s youthful contribution to the optimistic genre of Shakespearean comedy? What sort of closure is this in the context of Briony’s career? What is the significance of the fact that Briony is suffering from vascular dementia, which will result in the loss of her memory, and the loss of her identity?

15. In her letters to Robbie, Cecilia quotes from W. H. Auden’s 1939 poem, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” which includes the line, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” In part, the novel explores the question of whether the writing of fiction is not much more than the construction of elaborate entertainments—an indulgence in imaginative play -- or whether fiction can bear witness to life and to history, telling its own serious truths. Is Briony’s novel effective, in her own conscience, as an act of atonement? Does the completed novel compel the reader to forgive her?

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