Book Review: “Atonement” by Ian McEwan

Emma recommended this book, she is usually a good judge of reading matter.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

I haven’t yet seen the film, the book was on the Tbilisi Book Swap shelves at Begemot Coffee Books in Tbilisi, Emma’s thumbs up were sufficient for me to take it and read it. In this novel important questions are posed about love, guilt, redemption, truth and the nature and purpose of fiction. McEwan writes excellent prose and he does the meta-fiction thing (a novel within a novel) extremely well.

Atonement is about a thirteen year-old girl, Briony Tallis, who observed her older sister, and the charlady’s son  acting unusually, first by the fountain then in the library, her immature mind doesn’t understand what is actually happening but she has an active imagination, which concocts an extraordinary tale that causes an unforgivable crime. Can she atone for the damage she causes in everyone’s lives?

The book is in three parts, each quite different in tone from each other. In the first part we have a large family mansion in the mid thirties, the long drawn out drama takes place over a single day in an atmosphere reminiscent of an Evelyn Waugh or Virginia Woolf piece. It is a very controlled domestic world in marked contrast to the second part.

The second part is faster paced and involves the shambolic retreat of the British Army to Dunkirk in 1940.

The third part is also set in the war with the hard life of a probationer nurse with lots of fascinating historical detail.

The prose is wonderful, McEwan can certainly write, although I wasn’t too taken with any of the characters.

My rating 4 out of 5


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