Atonement

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Atonement

by Ian Mcewan

Knopf Canada | November 27, 2007 | Mass Market Paperbound

Atonement is rated 3.6098 out of 5 by 41.
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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Format: Mass Market Paperbound

Dimensions: 496 pages, 6.86 × 4.23 × 1.09 in

Published: November 27, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1400025559

ISBN - 13: 9781400025558

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can we ever atone for our sins truly? This isn't usually the kind of book I would read, do to the fact i'm not really into books about love stories and unrequited love, but I must say I really enjoyed this book. I found the author did a wonderful way of transported the reading into see the characters as real flesh and blood. The story is about how Briony trying to atone for doing something horrible to her sister Cecilia and especially terrible to Robbie. The story is broken into three main parts then ending with a "present day" epilogue of the sorts. The first main part is telling you what the events leading up to and the event itself that Briony needs to atone for. The second main part follows Robbie and the third follows Briony. This is really a great book, please do check it out.
Date published: 2012-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The first GREAT 21st century novel I like to think that I have a good grasp on most of the truly great novels written during my lifetime, and with some confidence I can say Ian McEwan's Atonement -- published in 2001 -- will probably go down as the best novel of the past decade. While a surprise visit from the girlfriend interrupted my normal reading habits for a weekend, it also added about seven novels to my TBR list as there were a few books I couldn't pass up at the used bookstore and Chapters, one of which was a cheap copy of Atonement. I hadn't planned on even reading it, as I picked up McEwan's Saturday not long ago. However, the fact that my girlfriend had already read the book and said I should try it led me to begin reading it this past week, and I am elated that I chose to do so. First off, McEwan's writing here is GORGEOUS. Not saying things I have been reading have been necessarily lacking in that regard, but there's a point when after reading so much of a certain author, you begin to know what to expect. The prose here caught me off-guard: I felt that this would be a great book -- shortlisted for the Booker, an incredible amount of buzz -- but I was excited at just how good it truly was. It reads like a great 19th century novel -- rich character development, an epic story, depth. Not a novel to pass up. If it had been published decades ago it would be hailed as a classic, but the fact that it was published just 9 years ago proves that literature is far from dead. Easy novel to recommend; an essential read.
Date published: 2010-07-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great Story ... Difficult Read Have you ever known someone who just goes on and on? I am referring to someone who feels it necessary to describe every last detail ... the colour of the buttons on their new dress, every single vegetable in their pasta salad, all the mundane things s/he did today, every piece of evidence to substantiate their claim. Rambling on and on, without divulging any real information, perhaps even blogging (about nothing in particular) for the entire month of April for no other reason than just to say she did it ... Do you know someone like this? I just finished Atonement by Ian McEwan. The story itself is fabulous and unique; however, at times McEwan just goes on and on, sometimes taking four or five pages to generate only one small piece of information. I can understand why this book is acclaimed and why it was made into a movie. The story is unique and fabulous, as I said before. The first part of the book is written in chapters. Fourteen to be exact. The second, third and fourth parts are written without chapters. Unique way to write a story. You may just want to see the movie in the case of Atonement ... and I don't think I have EVER said that before.That way, if you don't like it, you've wasted only a couple of hours instead of a few days. I read this book as part of a challenge to read 100 books in 1 year, and I am blogging as I read. To check out all my thoughts on this book, click the link below ... http://takenoutofcontext-jill.blogspot.com/2010/04/looking-for-forgiveness.html
Date published: 2010-06-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not bad The storyline and book were quite good, but it took a lot for me to get into the book itself. I kept taking breaks from the book because I couldn't just sit there and read a story front to back that jumps from view to view. However, I agree with most others that it was well written and worth reading it if you're interested in a slightly romantic twist on history.
Date published: 2009-05-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Worth your time When I first picked this book up to read, I couldn't get myself past the first few chapters. The second time I picked it up, a year later as a traveler with nothing else to read, I forced myself to get through it and ended up really enjoying it. The beginning is tough to get through but for me that was due to reading the back cover and seeing movie trailers that left me wanted to get straight to the climax.
Date published: 2009-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnificent This book was amazing. So well written. From the first page of the book i was completely absorbed in the book and could not put it down. It was never slow, and always kept moving. I highly recommend this book. One of my favourites.
Date published: 2009-04-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Booker Prize 2001: Just Not Good Enough Atonement found itself in, perhaps, the strongest Booker Prize year of them all, so it's no surprise that Ian McEwan failed to pick up his second prize. David Mitchell's Number 9 Dream, Rachel Seiffert's The Dark Room, Ali Smith's Hotel World and Andrew Miller's Oxygen (the weakest of the lot, which is saying something) were all strong contenders for the prize, and some of them were even better than McEwan's story of war bound love and betrayal. The travesty is that Peter Carey beat McEwan with The True History of the Kelly Gang rather than Mitchell or Seiffert or Smith. Regardless, Atonement is one hell of a book. The multiple perspectives, the lies, the fancy, the truth, the life, the sensuality, the suffering, the echoes of Brideshead Revisted, they all combined to make an experience that won't let me go. It took three tries to get past Briony's production of her play, but once I made it past her spoiled petulance, I couldn't stop reading Atonement until I was through. And Briony's final, fading declaration of truth actually made me cry. What stands out for me about Atonement is that nothing really stands out. It was a novel of immersion, like Cecilia diving for the broken shard of vase, or Robbie cocooned by darkness, rotting internally from a gut shot, or Cecilia drowning in a bombed out subway station, or the French soldier buried in his impending death, mistaking Briony for his lover. It is all there. All at once. And nothing overpowers the others. It is all powerful. Now...if this is the way I feel about Atonement...just imagine how I feel about Number 9 Dream, The Dark Room and Hotel World. 2001 was a very good year.
Date published: 2009-04-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Overly descriptive, boring Mcewan is a good writer, don't get me wrong. It had great parts but was slow and boring at times. Not one of my favourites.
Date published: 2009-03-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Atonement “Atonement” by Ian McEwan is a beautifully written book, with the imagery being so vivid that the reader can clearly see in their mind what is happening in the book. Young Briony Tallis witnesses an intimate moment between her sister Cecilia and the son of a servant, Robbie Turner. Briony has a passion for writing and an imagination that sees what it wants to see. Her misunderstanding of this flirtatious moment between her sister and Robbie Turner has devastating consequences that the reader follows through the battle of World War II and to the close of the twentieth century. I had trouble liking this book, it is well praised for its literary genius and it is a gorgeous read, but I did not bond with any of the characters. Actually the only character that really interested me was Briony, but her story is short changed. Instead the story focuses on the two lovers, Cecilia and Robbie and their devastating separation. It seems hard to believe that Cecilia and Robbie could be so deeply in love and committed to each other throughout war and hell after just spending one-half of a day realizing that they loved each other before they are separated. Their encounter in the library seems more lustful then full of love. The ending is one part of the book that I really enjoyed, it focused on Briony and it throws a realistic twist into the whole book. Bring on more Briony! This book should be read just for the writing style and the vividness of the word that Ian McEwan is able to produce.
Date published: 2009-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ok...So? Yeah it was nice This is a weird book. Not the one I am used to but still love it! There's a lot of things I didn't like, for instance nothing actually happend, the characters are doing nothing; they just think. Also, it's very well described and bla blah but I mean maybe it was a little too much, not like I care about the sun or whatever. Last, I don't see the atonement at all and the end was so purposeless, I was very disappointed about it. But I do love it.... I don't know why, must be the story which is so romantic and well.... I don't know! I just really like this book!
Date published: 2009-03-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not too bad I actually saw the movie before I read this book and found it to be good, but not great. Turns out the book is really no different and the movie is quite faithful, which I always like to see. I guess for me the reason that I didn't love the book is that I don't see any actual atonement in it. It was a little frustrating for sure. I also found that even though I knew what was coming, it took forever to get there in the book. It's slow to get going, but good once you get there.
Date published: 2009-02-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from boring This book started off boring and I'm halfway through and it's still boring. It had a few decent parts but overall this is a very slow paced, boring book that just focuses on describing characters and no real action or anything interesting goes on until the middle and then even so, it dies down.
Date published: 2009-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Heartbreaking Story Set in the 1930's and 40's, Atonement is the story of a young girl, Briony Tallis, whose naiveté and imagination lead her to make a devastating mistake. Her actions and accusations rip apart a budding romance between her older sister Cecila and a youngman, Robbie. Coupled with the onslaught of World War 2, Briony's actions have disastrous consequences. I believe one may be mislead into thinking this is a typical love story about two lovers being ripped apart by war. In actuality, not very much of the novel focuses on WWII - although the descriptions of the English retreat to Dunkirk were both astounding and disturbing. McEwan clearly did his research on this sad chapter of the war and also on the Nightingale order of nurses. While some may find this book 'wordy' or overly descriptive, I enjoyed McEwan's attention to detail and the unique, heartbreaking story.
Date published: 2008-12-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great story, but not a great ending I enjoyed reading Atonement by Ian McEwan because it kept me interested and so was completed fairly quickly. The beginning was interesting as well, unlike what other reviewers mentioned, because it gave me an idea of how Briony thought and how the characters' lives were. Some parts were boring, such as when Emily was the main focus, but every novel has boring parts. I wish the ending was better, because I wanted to know more about what happened to certain characters. In the summer of 1935, Briony Tallis, 11, sees her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner near the fountain and then later in the library, and misinterprets what actually occurred. Because Briony is young and does not know much about the world, she blames Robbie for a serious crime. --------CONTAINS SPOILERS-------- Robbie is arrested and taken to war as a solider, and Cecilia is left waiting. ------------------------------------------------ Atonement is a story about Briony trying to atone for her sins, when she understands what truly happened. Many different characters are focused on, but it is mainly about Briony and there is also a big piece on Robbie. Atonement gives you a better understanding of what difficulties soldiers had to endure and what occurred in the hospitals during WW2. Now, I will finally complete Atonement the movie, and all of the parts that were once unclear, will actually make sense to me. Characters: Uncle Clem: Jack’s only brother Jack Tallis: Briony’s father Emily Tallis: Briony’ mother Leon Tallis: Briony’s older brother Cecilia Tallis: Briony’s older sister Briony Tallis Paul Marshall: Leon’s friend Hermione Quincey: Emily Tallis’s younger sister Lola Quincey: Briony’s cousin Pierrot Quincey: Briony’s cousin; Jackson’s twin Jackson Quincey: Briony’s cousin; Pierrot’s twin Earnest Turner: Grace’s husband Grace Turner: the cleaning lady that works for the Tallis’ Robbie Turner: went to the same school as Cecilia
Date published: 2008-07-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I felt cheated At the end we learn the book is not written in the third person but in the first. You can't do that! The first person cannot pretend to get into the minds of others without admitting to be writing a novel. This puts a great strain on the suspension of disbelief necessary for all fiction. To top it off our heroine/writer allows the reader to choose alternate endings, leading us to ask what really happened. And then insults us: "I know there's always a certain kind of reader who will be compelled to ask, But what REALLY happened?" Well, there's always a certain kind of writer who requires gimickry to propel creaky plots. Honestly people, there are many more better writers out there.
Date published: 2008-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible I am still shaking my head at just how good this story is. I have read Ian's novel, "Amsterdam," which won the Booker, but I didn't like it. So I was very surprised by this. It truly is masterfully written, the way he treats his characters and his readers. This novel has so much to say about novelists and the act of writing, as well as forgiveness and sincerity.
Date published: 2008-05-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from On The Fence For all the hype there is around this book, it didn't really live up to its expectations. (For me, anyway). The story was good enough, and it was certainly sad and beautiful at times, but you really have to push yourself through the first half of the book to reach those sad and beautiful moments. I have yet to see the movie, but since the book is usually better, I'm not sure if I want to.
Date published: 2008-05-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from People seem to love it or hate it. I'm sort of in the middle. It had been so highly recommended to me that I had great expectations. Then I started it. The first part of the book - set one day in 1935 when Briony sees things as a child and misinterprets things - took a full half of the book. And that half seemed to drag on forever. It was soo descriptive. And the relationships all seemed so convoluted - people taking great exceptions to innocuous comments and behaviours. Perhaps 1935 was like this, with all its social mores but I'm glad I don't have to read about it. Plus, the vocabulary! I'm well educated and well read but I've never had to deal with so many words I've never seen before and didn't know the meanings too. But then I got into the second half of the book - the war and we find out what has happened to these characters. My interest level picked up quite a bit. A little more action and an interesting plot line helped the second half of the book. And I really enjoyed the part at the end set in 1999 when we learn more about Briony and the atonement that she attempted. So I ended up liking it but not loving it. I wish I could have edited the first half of the book by 100 pages (I'm sure I would have lost nothing). I understand where both sides are coming from - I understand why some love it but I won't really being recommending it to tons of people - I'd have to know their reading habits pretty well first. I am excited to see the movie and see it commands the screen better than it did a book.
Date published: 2008-05-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Profoundly Sad Book I wanted to make sure I read Atonement before I saw the movie because the book is always so much richer than the adaptation for the screen. I found this book a bit slow going for about the first one hundred pages but then the story started the develop and I found it much more interesting. In the end, I found this to be a profoundly sad book. I suppose a happy ending isn’t always realistic and this one did not offer that simple solution to complicated lives. I did enjoy this book but felt such a feeling of loss at the end that I needed to seek out something much lighter to read next. I am looking forward to the movie in seeing what parts are true to the book and what parts are changed. The writing style of Ian McEwan is detailed and lyrical. The detail in the novel gave it a beauty that surpassed the ending.
Date published: 2008-05-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Terrible I thought this book was boring from beginning to end. I had to force myself through it. I would not recommend this book
Date published: 2008-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful and Poignant This book is so linguistically perfect, it made me feel like I was standing in the presence of greatness as I devoured it. I have seen the movie, and I cannot recall a signal instance when a book and film ran more similar lines to one another. There is an excellence to this book, a certain grace that leaves the reader feeling something akin to bathing in cleansing waters. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2008-03-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Wonderfully written! Not normally the type of book I would choose and found it quite difficult to get into. Once I did though, it was hard to put it down even though it was a pretty depressing read (a good winter book!). I never warmed up to the Briony character but that that didn't stop me from loving the book!
Date published: 2008-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic This novel is so unique, showing characters so real its hard to put the novel down for a second. Unfortunately I did for I was busy at the time so I could not read it front to cover without hesistation. Its a novel with betrayal, redemption, and connections that are lost and new ones kindled out of thin air.
Date published: 2008-03-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Hmmm.... I tried reading this, and found it really boring in the beginning. Then by the middle of Part One, it got pretty good. But now halfway through the book I am bored and probably won't finish it. It is extremely well written, but I just don't like it that much. Plus I hate Briony (although I didn't finish it...maybe her character improves.)
Date published: 2008-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful book I saw the movie before I finished the book and usually that would make me not continue with a book but I found Ian McEwan's writing so descriptive and engaging that I couldn't put the book down even though I knew the ending. This is the first Ian McEwan book I have read and I loved it.
Date published: 2008-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this book!! This is such a great book. Has everything you want in a book. A love story but with so much more. How a lie can change your life and that of the ones you love. And the ending is the best that I have read in a long time - made me gasp!!
Date published: 2008-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lovely love... Right from the first page I was drawn into the mesh of this story! Ian McEwan really has a way of animating the story without being too verbose. Loved it, good book to curl up with on a cold winter's day...curious to see the movie now...
Date published: 2008-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome read! I found this book at a train station in Europe. I have never read a book that is so intricately written. The writing is very thoughtful and grabbed me right away. It is a very different kind of love story. I really enjoyed this book and highly reccommend it!
Date published: 2008-01-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Story That Will Linger in Your Mind... Like most of the reviewers, I found the book extremely hard to get into and at times, I really wanted to just shove it in the recycling bin for the author seemed to be dragging it. I am so glad I didn't do what my impulses told me to-- once you get past the first 50-60 pages, you'll NOT want to put the book down. Briony may seem like a b*tch (excuse my language) for doing what she did, but we have to remember that we're talking about the early 20th century AND we have to put ourselves in her shoes-- she simply wanted to protect her older sister.
Date published: 2008-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Tugs at the heart strings Atonement is a different book to categorize. On the surface it appears to be a sappy romance novel. However, with a closer look one will find that the novel deals with the tragedy of WWII and the redeeming of past sins. Its safe to say that almost anyone can find something that appeals to them within McEwan's novel. To sum up the plot, the novel follows the impact and significance of a seemingless ordinary day in pre-war England. Briony Tallis is a young naive girl who aspires to become a writer someday. Briony has a wild imagination, where she believes that life should follow something out of a novel. Her older sister Cecilia and the son of the house servant Robbie Turner (both of which have just returned from Cambridge), discover they have an undieing love for one another. To avoid spoling anything, Briony misinterprets this love for something evil and commits a "crime", which alters the three lives forever. Robbie is sent to prison and later to fight in WWII. Cecilia cuts herself from the rest of ther family, and Briony attempts to atone for her sin. In my opinion, I thought the novels opening 100 or so pages were long and drawn out. Very little excitement happens in the beginning, and its a slow read. Just before the half way point, the book finds its stride. The incident involving Briony's crime is by far the novels highlight. However, after that the book seems to take a few steps back (suprisingly since this is the portion that deals with the war). Even though the book never finds the same excitement level again it does find a way to bring a sense of empathy for all the characters. By the end of this novel you really do come to care a lot for Briony, Cecilia and Robbie. Almost as if they are people you actually know. This is because McEwan takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotion, especially in dealing with Briony. You come to hate, love and sympathize with all of them. Its this caring for the characters that propels the story along. In my opinion, McEwan's biggest strength as a storyteller is in his attention detail. He is able to make things that seem insignificant seem engaging and intriguing. Overall, this is a great novel. I just feel the stories opening could have done a better job of drawing in the reader. Just know that you will be rewarded for pushing through and reaching the stories heartbreaking conclusion.
Date published: 2008-01-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sorry guys.... Sorry guys, but this really is one for the gals. If you love romance and want to embrace life OR if you're feeling like your life sucks and you need a really good cry...this is the book for you. It fulfills are the reguirements that we yearn for. Love lost, love found, family betrayal, etc., etc. - all based on the misunderstanding of a creative, exuberant young girl. This book paints beautiful, wonderous and dangerous times that are so vivid and rich you can hear your heart thumping and feel a lump in your throat with every turn of the page. What more could one ask for?
Date published: 2008-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A treasure! It took a while for me to get into this book - but I am glad that I made the effort. It has been a while since a book has touched me this much. The story was beautifully told and tragic. Briony's character become more human as the story went on. It was sad to see how a "lie" could change so many lives.
Date published: 2008-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Absolutely great!" An excellent, descriptive read from start to finish. the novel, should win an OSCAR as well. The movie did the book "justice" and vice versa which is a rarity for adaptations.
Date published: 2008-01-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from So So It wasn't too bad once I got into it a little. I found it hard to connect with the characters though and a little verbose at times
Date published: 2008-01-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Worthwhile I expected a bit more after the hype...some parts were over done and the ending was a bit disappointing. However, other parts was artful and I did keep turning the pages. I can see the appeal of making a movie out of this plot and the characters.
Date published: 2008-01-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from It's ok. I've read a lot of raves for this book, but while I didn't think the book was awful, it didn't impress me a whole lot either. It's very well written, and yet the characters didn't engage me. And when I finally got to the end, I was very disappointed...it just felt like a bit of a cop out.
Date published: 2008-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this book! Ian McEwan is a wonderful writer! This is what happens when a child misinterprets what she has seen, and has to atone for mistake. Lives are damaged and changed forever. A must read. Their is also a movie out now, based on the book.
Date published: 2008-01-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intriquing I was very drawn into the description of events and styles but not the emotions of the characters. On the whole I found myself turning the page to find out what happened next but never identifying with any of the characters. Very different style of writing which I quite enjoyed as a change of pace.
Date published: 2008-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Real Tear Jerker As a review states, this book truly deserves the title 'Masterpiece'. It was so beautifully written, and the plot is astounding. Just amazing! Im going to see the film tomorrow, and I can only hope it will do it justice.
Date published: 2007-12-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Review My immediate thought after reading the last line of this book was, 'so what?' I don't understand all of the rave reviews that this book has received. The book seemed to drag on forever. I kept waiting for something (anything!!) to happen, but nothing ever really did. The characters were very one dimensional and, as a result, I never felt a true connection with any of them. I didn't feel Briony's guilt. The description of devastation that Robbie encountered was completely emotionless. I couldn't identify with Cecilia's pain and anger. I honestly didn't care what happened to any of them. Nonetheless, I kept reading because I wanted to know what all of the fuss was about. I still don't know. This wasn't the worst book i've ever read (Ghostwritten wins that aaward), but it's far from the masterpiece that I had expected.
Date published: 2007-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from heart wrenching I saw the movie in London in September and immediately bought the book . It is an incredible tale where you feel for the bad (so to speak) character. And just when you think there is hope....
Date published: 2007-11-15

– More About This Product –

Atonement

by Ian Mcewan

Format: Mass Market Paperbound

Dimensions: 496 pages, 6.86 × 4.23 × 1.09 in

Published: November 27, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1400025559

ISBN - 13: 9781400025558

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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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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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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