“The anticipation and dread he felt at seeing her was also a kind of sensual pleasure, and surrounding it, like an embrace, was a general elation--it might hurt, it was horribly inconvenient, no good might come of it, but he had found out for himself what it was to be in love, and it thrilled him.”
Book number two. Here it is. After a trip to Hay-on-Wye over the Christmas holidays I came back with a plastic bag full of books from my list and couldn’t wait to get my teeth into more classics, though with given that there were many viable options there, I picked ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan. I made a point of looking through each of them diligently before making my decision (I take this stuff pretty seriously if you haven’t yet realised) and I was gripped by the opening pages of McEwan’s novel, set in the summer heat of 1935 where tensions run high and the whole of Britain hold their breath as the prospect of war looms. Briony Tallis, however, scarcely concerns herself with matters such as these- she concentrates her efforts on her writing, a new-found passion that occupies most of her time and an excursion into play-writing means that she’s even busier, with making posters and rehearsing and forcing her cousins into participating in time for her brother’s long awaited return home.
Meanwhile, her sister Cecilia prepares for adult life following her time at Cambridge and finds that diving into the fountain at their country house has unexpected repercussions when she’s watched by Robbie Turner, a childhood friend for whom she has increasingly confusing feelings. Unbeknownst to them, Briony is a witness to this moment of sexual tension and misconstrues it, leading to events that none could have anticipated with disastrous consequences. Following a night-time search, Briony stumbles upon her cousin Lola being raped by an undeterminable figure, who leaves hurriedly and Briony is convinced that this could only be Robbie, lying to the police and sending an innocent man to prison, a crime for which she spends the rest of her life trying to atone.
This plot is not one that is too difficult to follow, but what unfolds over the 300+ pages is not dependent on story but how the characters react to the situations and explore the nature of guilt, shame, anger, forgiveness etc. that beat at the heart of the book. Not much happens in terms of what is said- rather, it’s how it’s said that’s key and the secrets that smoulder beneath the prim and proper façade of these people are revealed slowly but surely. Robbie enrols with the army while Cecilia waits for him and Briony becomes a nurse while they all battle unresolved conflicts and struggle with coming to terms with what happened that fateful night. But the cuts run deeper than any of them could imagine and some may turn out to be irreparable.
I was enthralled by this book and as a writer I thought it was very interesting to see how Ian McEwan constructed everything and his style of writing in contrast to other authors. I haven’t yet seen the film but the first thing I’ll do now is put it on our LoveFilm list. I’d also like to add that it may be unsuitable for younger readers, who wouldn’t really have much interest in the book anyway, but there is some sex and one use of very bad language so caution is recommended. However, if this isn’t enough to put you off then I’d strongly advise that you get your hands on a copy, whenever you can.
‘Atonement’ is available on Amazon in paperback (£6.29) and on Kindle (£3.79)