Book: Atonement

Posted on September 19, 2010


Author: Ian McEwan (2001)
jusco’s Rating: ★★★1/2

“She was on course now, and had found satisfaction on other levels; writing stories not only involved secrecy, it also gave her all the pleasures of miniaturization. A world could be made in five pages, and one that was more pleasing than a model farm. The childhood of a spoiled prince could be framed within half a page, a moonlit dash through sleepy villages was one rhythmically emphatic sentence, falling in love could be achieved in a single word – a glance. The pages of a recently finished story seemed to vibrate in her hand with all the life they contained. Her passion for tidiness was also satisfied, for an unruly world could be made just so. A crisis in a heroine’s life could be made to coincide with hailstones, gales and thunder, whereas nuptials were generally blessed with good light and soft breezes. A love of order also shaped the principles of justice, with death and marriage the main engines of housekeeping, the former being set aside exclusively for the morally dubious, the latter a reward withheld until the final page.” (pg. 7)

If you want to read a novel with some of the most beautifully crafted English ever in a novel, pick up Atonement immediately. The excerpt above was one of my favourite passages from the novel; I’m sure those who share my passion for writing will understand and relate. (But then again, if reading that gave you a headache, I highly recommend you don’t pick it up.)

Some of you are probably more familiar with the film by Joe Wright released in 2007 and starring the ever-beautiful Keira Knightley, but this was the original novel that the film was based on. Having seen the film previously, I was aware of the storyline, but I still derived plenty of enjoyment from the novel.

It’s about a 13-year-old girl named Briony who commits a grave mistake that unimaginably changes the lives of her sister, Cecilia, and the housekeeper’s son, Robbie. It’s a very slow-paced novel especially the first half, but the subtle build-up to the life-changing mistake is evidence that Ian McEwan can ingeniously craft a feeling of suspense so suffocating (in a good sense), you can’t stop reading. One minute you’re engrossed in long and eloquent passages about English gardens and the weather, and the next something inconceivable happens that causes you to look twice in bewilderment. The second half is more eventful, focusing on Robbie in the war, and eventually leads to the unforeseen ending that could possibly divide readers (I personally found it very fitting).

Ian McEwan is considered one of the best British authors around, and this novel (probably his most famous) is proof of why he is said to be so. It does require a bit of effort and patience at the start, but it’s bound to draw you in, in no time at all. I just bought his novel, Amsterdam (which won the Man Booker Prize in 1998), and I’ll let you know how that one is when I read it.

Posted in: 3.5-stars, book