Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Review: Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement - Ian McEwan

It’s 1935, and at thirteen years of age, Briony Tallis has decided to move on from writing and illustrating short stories, instead choosing to create a play, The Trials of Arabella. She has high hopes that the play, which is a product of her overactive imagination, and which features her penchant for dramatics, will be performed for her brother Leon and his friend Paul Marshall, following their homecoming from college.
Her cousins, who are staying with the family for an undetermined amount of time while their parents go through a messy divorce, are delegated roles in the play, but Briony is disheartened by their poor attempts at acting and decides to call the play off. It is while she is staring out the window in a depression that she spots her older sister Cecilia in a moment’s interaction with the cleaner’s son Robbie Turner.
With her thoughts going into overdrive, Briony imagines the scenarios that have lead to what she has witnessed, and starts to plot a story far beyond what she knows.
These imaginings skew her perceptions of Cecilia and Robbie’s relationship, and when a crime is committed on the grounds, she immediately points the blame at Robbie, despite contrary evidence.
Briony’s distorted perceptions of the event, and the repercussions that follow, haunt each of the characters as they struggle to survive through World War II and through the difficult years that follow.

What I gained from reading this book:
This story gives as good a reminder as any that you shouldn’t judge someone without knowing all the important facts.
Briony lets her imagination dictate what is happening between Cecilia and Robbie, and this not only threatens to ruin the couple’s new relationship, but it destroys their families and aids a criminal in his escape from justice.
The fact that a thirteen-year-old middle-class girl is believed over a cleaner’s son is also reminiscent of the times when higher status in the community meant more than a person’s integrity. What is worse, even though Briony has her doubts later on, she is too afraid to renege on what she has said for fear of retribution, which only heightens the guilt that she ultimately feels.
This is an issue that affects many people in their day-to-day lives, where they feel the need to lie to save their own skins, despite knowing that they are wrongly incriminating somebody else. The author is able to highlight the remorse that Briony feels about Robbie during the war, but is also able to draw on her fear of being blamed for destroying so many lives. This theme could strike a chord with readers who have also found themselves in situations where they have faced avoidable guilt.

Not only are the characters well developed, but readers will get drawn into the drama that comes from their personal stories and the wartime experiences they face- especially as they deal with the consequences of what happened in the summer of 1935.

Although the novel has won wide acclaim from critics, as well as several awards, it takes a while for readers to actually get into the story. The beginning is slow and sometimes it seems as though nothing exciting will ever happen, but if you persist with reading the first few chapters, you will find yourself drawn into wanting to know what happens next to the characters.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Genre: War/ Relationships

Recommended for: People who have seen the film and would like to read the book.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:


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