BOOK REVIEW: Atonement – by Ian McEwan

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Title: Atonement
Author: Ian McEwan
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII, Romance
First published: 2001
Finished reading: June 22nd 2014
Pages: 351
Rating 4,5

“He thought about telling them of his own single, haunting detail. But he didn’t want to add to the horror, and nor did he want to give life to the image while it remained at a distance, held there by wine and companionship.”

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Wow. I knew already this book was probably going to be good after various people recommending it to me, and I must say Ian McEwan didn’t disappoint at all with his novel. Atonement is devided into three parts, and each part has its own identity, appropriate action and writing style. The first part is in a way a bit slow, but it is beautifully written and it’s content necessary to understand the actions of the main characters during the second part. The second part is all about the second world war and its consequences, while the last part is about feelings of guilt and looking back on events of the past. All together those three parts form a recipe for a great book and one of my favorites this year. The only thing that refrained me of giving the full five stars is the slowness of the first part of the book, even though I still quite enjoyed it.

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The story starts when we meet a thirteen year old girl Briony Tallis, an aspiring writer and blessed/cursed with a rich imagination. She lives comfortably with her family somewhere in the English countryside, and spends most days living in her own fantasy world. Then one evening everything changes as she accused having witnessed Robbie Turner, the son of a servant, attacking her niece Lola in the garden. The same young man that succesfully tried to seduce her sister Cecilia was now led away to prison because of her lie. A lie she only had told in order to protect her sister… Briony had believed Robbie was molesting her sister, but they were actually falling in love; a love that would last even when Robbie was sent to prison.

In the second part we follow Robbie, who was released from prison to become a soldier during the Second World War. He was sent to France in 1939, but the mission failed and he was forced to retreat to Dunkirk. We follow him on a agonizing journey back to Dunkirk, where he thinks he will find his safety. We also learn that the love still exists between him and Cecilia, and her letters are what is keeping him alive. She was asking him to come back, and he couldn’t disappoint her…

We then get introduced to a young aspiring nurse, who turns out to be Briony. She followed the steps of her big sister and is training to be a nurse at a hospital, mostly out of penance. Briony is having trouble living with what she did; the mayor consequences of one little lie… Although she knows they would never forgive her, she does her best to try and set things right. But it turns out it might be a little late for that. The story then ends with a seventy-seven year old Briony, who is looking back on life, her mistakes and the impossibility of making things right before she dies…

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The three parts of Atonement are connected by the events of one tragic evening in 1935, intertwining their life stories as we follow the main characters in their struggle with the consequences of those events. While the first part is a bit slow, the other parts definitely make up for it and turn this book into one of my favorite reads so far this year.

7 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Atonement – by Ian McEwan

  1. Pingback: Listing the reading | It's All About Books

    • The story is quite sad indeed, but beautifully written and it’s one of my favorite reads this year. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but after loving the book I’m sure I will soon. 🙂

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    • I’m planning on reading more of McEwan’s work too; Sweet Tooth and Saturday for example. It’s good to know they might not be as good as Atonement; I will make sure to lower my expectations so the other books won’t disappoint me. 🙂

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  2. I second the recommendation to watch the film – possibly the only time I’ve been left wondering if the film is in fact better than the book. A stunning performance from Vanessa Redgrave as the old woman, and the war scenes are unforgettable.

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    • Wow, that really wants to make me see the movie like right now. The Second World War really interests me and the book itself is beautifully written, so I’m totally curious about the movie now. 🙂

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