by Ian McEwan
Category: Fiction / General
372 pages; ISBN: 0 000000 060141
Rating: 7/10 (Ratings explained)
"Atonement" is Ian McEwan's attempt at a great remorse novel to rank alongside "Crime And Punishment","Under Western Eyes" and "The Secret History". It doesn't reach those heights but often one writer's failures are more interesting than another's successes.
The novel is oddly paced.Part One takes up fully half the novel yet the "action" takes place over a single day.The venue is a country house in 1935 where a precocious pre-pubescent girl Briony Tallis is watching members of her family arrive for a dinner.At a glacial pace McEwan manipulates the characters towards a dramatic denouement where Briony having read a letter addressed to her sister that was never meant to be sent leaps to the wrong conclusion when her young cousin is raped (no marks for taste there) in scarcely believable circumstances and fingers her sister's boyfriend Robbie.If that sounds horribly contrived it is.
Part Two flings us five years forwards and a prematurely released Robbie is brooding over his wrongs on the road to Dunkirk accompanied by two hearty working class fellows.It's too close to "Birdsong" for comfort.
Then matters greatly improve in Part Three as we follow Briony's progess as a young nurse in the Blitz.The privations and then shocks as the wounded start to arrive and their effect on the young woman are much more involving than anything
that has gone on before.Briony emerges as a more likeable character than either of her "victims" whose passionate affair never really convinces.On an afternoon's leave Briony attends the wedding of rapist and victim (another lapse of taste) then seeks out her sister to try and put things right, their encounter making for a satisfactory if not earth-shattering conclusion.
Except that's not it.McEwan has seen fit to include a present-day epilogue which subverts the previous ending a la The Usual Suspects/Life of Pi leaving you unsure what to make of the whole novel.