The first thing you need to know about this book is that I hated it. I intensely disliked Briony, from the very beginning of the story – even before all the miscommunication and misunderstandings happened. In fact, there wasn’t really a single character I did like in this novel. I’m not sure if this is the way McEwan intended to write it, but that’s the way it struck me. All of the characters were so selfish and proud, with the small exception of a shell-shocked Robbie as he struggled to survive.
“There was a shout of ‘Take cover!’ and before anyone could even glance round, the mountain of uniforms was detonated. It began to snow tiny pieces of dark green serge.” – p 228
If you don’t know the synopsis of this story by now, I’d be surprised. Here’s a quick rundown. Briony is a young girl living in the English countryside with her family – which includes an older brother, Leon, and an older sister, Cecilia. Briony’s cousins come to stay with the family which brings the vain and dramatic Lola – the eldest. When Briony witnesses a scene fraught with romantic tension between Cecilia and Robbie, the maid’s son and a somewhat ward of the family, she relates it to Lola – who convinces her Robbie is a sex maniac. Circumstances against Robbie build, at least in Briony’s mind, as she continues to misconstrue every event of the day, leading up to the evening; when Briony lets her imagination believe Robbie is capable of rape, and accuses him of it. Robbie and Cecilia, who are in love, are separated.
Despite the fact I supremely disliked the book and all the characters within it, I did enjoy some of McEwan’s descriptive passages. He went a little overboard with them at times, but I never felt I didn’t have a grasp on where I was, what that place looked like, or how the character related to it.
“From this new and intimate perspective, she learned a simple, obvious thing she had always known, and everyone knew: that a person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn, not easily mended.” – p 287
The final frustrating thing with this novel was it’s extreme predictability. For those of you who haven’t read it, I won’t ruin it…despite it being obvious. For this book being hailed a triumph, I thought it was kind of bland. A drama and depressing, to be sure, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Ian McEwan published “Atonement” in 2001.