Atonement by Ian McEwan
First published 2001
2/3 contemporary (2013 Book Challenge)
“…stepping contemptuously through the pile, [she] reached for the gown, her green backless post-finals gown.”
Happening to see the film first, I had no trouble imagining Cecilia’s gorgeous emerald dress. Keira Knightley’s Cecilia wore it beautifully well. I adored the film, and that moved me to read the book.
The story of young Briony Tallis, an aspiring writer, and her lie which wrecked the lives of two lovers, a lie she can never atone for, is a very interesting and fresh story in my opinion. Ian McEwan manages to make me first hate Briony, then lover her; criticize Cecilia, then pity her; despise Robbie, then admire him. Switching narratives composed my favourite kind of novel — one of multiple perspectives, and the WWII setting only increased my enjoyment. I loved how the novel started with The Trials of Arabella, and ended with it, too.
The ending left me in tears. The film did, too, but it is always a different experience with a book. I felt it ironic that Briony, who attempted in vain to forget her deed, was ultimately diagnosed with dementia — memory loss. The novel made me think what obstacles materialize before an author trying to write the “truth”: legal issues, inability to please an audience, guilt… The novel exposes how life can never completely become writing, and writing can never become life. Cecilia and Robbie could not share the same fates as their fictional doppelgangers, nor could Briony give them a happy ending as they deserved…