Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book 39: Atonement by Ian McEwan

I saw this movie a few years ago and I remember distinctly that when my sister and I discussed it we thought that all the drama could have been avoided if they just weren’t so British.  Seriously, just explain shit to the girl and everything would have been fine.  Despite this I really enjoyed the movie and heard that the book was even better, so I decided it was time to read it.  The book definitely did not disappoint—it was incredible and much more touching than I thought it would be.

The story starts in 1935 at the Tallis home.  Briony, the youngest (and most serious) Tallis child is writing a play, which she expects her newly arrived cousins will be more than happy to perform.  Lola, Jackson, and Pierrot have come to stay with their aunt and her family because of their parents’ divorce and are uncomfortable with their place in the house.  Briony’s perfectionism does not help them adjust at all.  Meanwhile Cecilia Tallis is home from university and is having all sorts of awkward encounters with Robbie Turner, the son of the housekeeper.  Briony misinterprets the sexual tension between the two and makes a mistake that haunts her for the rest of her life. 

The rest of the book details Robbie’s time serving in army during WWII and the retreat to Dunkirk.  Cecilia has cut off contact with her family and is working as a nurse in London.  They had a brief meeting before Robbie left for France, but are stuck communicating through letters until he can return home.  Briony becomes a nurse as well and is determined to correct the mistake she made and reunite with her sister and Robbie.  The final part is set in 1999, Briony is turning 77 and a family party in her honor is being held.

Atonement is beautifully written and touching.  I actually cried a little—and I knew what was going to happen.  There were frustrating elements to the story, but that is just because the characters were so realistic and people are generally irritating.  McEwan is an amazing writer and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.

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