Saturday, November 15, 2008


by Ian McEwen

Reading a book multiple times you begin to spot details and connections that you may have missed on previous reads. That is the case for me with Ian McEwen's fine novel, Atonement.
Having both read it for at least two previous book groups and seen the movie version, my reading this week focused on the structure and some of the details. McEwen's novel has some of the hallmarks of great books in his attention to details, for example the broken vase from the opening that reappears late in the story and is really broken. I was also fascinated by Briony's fixation on order leading to her ordering her world as best she could. This is demonstrated by the orderly attention to detail of her bedroom and her relations with her family that eventually break down and neatly lead in to the crisis of the first section of the novel. The structure of the novel mirrors the importance of order with traditional chapter numbers in the first section and none in the later books of the novel. There are more indications, all of which point to the excellence of the novel. Briony Tallis, at three stages of her life, narrates this searing account of lives ruined and, perhaps, salvaged. Told with an exquisite detail that captures the heat of an English day, the passion of young lovers, the chaos of war and retreat, and a conscience that tries to right past wrongs, McEwan is at his best as he recreates Briony's life and her struggle to tell the truth about a childhood error that ruined many lives. It was short-listed for the Booker Prize, which McEwan won for Amsterdam.I have grown to appreciate and even like this novel, and I would recommend it to all who enjoy history and serious drama portrayed in fine literature.

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