Published by Anchor Books on 2001
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
The year is 1935 and 13-year-old Briony Tallis wants to be a writer. On a hot summer day at her English estate, she witnesses a private moment between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie, a life-long friend and the son of a servant. Briony is too young to understand what she is seeing, and her vivid imagination and penchant for drama lead her to misread the situation. When a crime occurs later that night and people are desperate for answers, Briony spins her greatest story yet — a story she knows, on some level, is not true. This story, and the accusation she makes, has far-reaching consequences.
Atonement follows the repercussions of Briony’s actions through the destruction of WWII to the late 19th century. We see Briony as a nurse in WWII London as she adjusts to a lifestyle drastically different from her luxurious childhood and, later, as an elderly woman reflecting on the fallout from her childhood lie. We also see the tragic aftermath of her betrayal on the bloody turf of war-time France and in the heartbreak of a pair of star-crossed lovers.
I’ve been wanting to read this book without really knowing what it was about since the Keira Knightly movie came out in 2007; I never actually saw the movie, but Atonement stuck in my mind as something I was interested in seeing/reading. When I saw this book on the Buy-Two-Get-One-Free shelf at Barnes & Noble, I was thrilled to pick it up — and I devoured it on my road trip last month.
I really enjoyed this book. Ian McEwan is a very strong writer, and I loved delving into Briony’s mind and seeing the ways she tried to atone for her actions. I especially loved the revelations at the end of the book. I don’t know if I’d call it a twist, exactly, but Briony makes some interesting admissions; let’s just say she is a creator of fiction through and through. The ending is genius and heartbreaking, and it perfectly conveys the depth of her regret over the crime she committed as a girl. McEwan does a great job portraying the multiple ways Briony’s lie permanently changed the lives of those around her.
Atonement also depicts the brutality and terror of WWII. One section of this book takes the reader to war-torn France as the British soldiers retreat to the Channel; it was horrendous and very powerful. The descriptions of London were excellent, too. I spent four months in London a few years ago, and it was strange to read about how incredibly different the city was during the war.
I’ve been reading a lot more historical fiction than usual this year, and I’m beginning to love it! Atonement was a great read that looks at WWII, the changing class structure of Great Britain, betrayal, love, loss, and forgiveness.