I’ve had a hard time deciding how I should start this year’s blog post series, and which book to choose as the first to review in 2016. After pondering different arguments and looking back a few times over the list of books that I plan to review, I finally decided to go with the novel that I was reading at this same time a year ago. Last New Year’s found me reading Atonement by Ian McEwan.
When I discovered McEwan’s literary work, I read four of his book one after another. I enjoyed all of them, but there were two in particular that I liked most and I couldn’t decide on a favorite. Both were very interesting yet completely different. Atonement was the last out of the four that I read because it was slightly longer than the others and also because I’ve seen the movie and I knew the plot. The movie with the same name, is quite beautiful, and so is the book. Thinking about it now, I can say that the book is at least as good as the movie, if not better.
I always prefer books in favor of their corresponding movies, because books allow readers to create their own universe. Writers describe their characters based on traits and actions, but how we actually imagine them depends on us, and everyone has a slightly different image of the same character in their minds. When I first started reading Atonement, Cecilia to me looked surprisingly similar to Keira Knightley. By the end of the book, Cecilia’s character had taken clear shape in my mind, and she was strong, rebellious, yet also fragile and in love. Most importantly, at the end of the story, I had a clear idea of which ending I would have preferred for her.
I mention the ending because the author uses an ingenious technique of introducing the finale. Ian McEwan combines different narration techniques in Atonement, and even introduces a story within the story in the third part of the novel, when Briony becomes the narrative voice. As a consequence, the book has two storylines, each with their own ending, and even though the author makes the fate of the characters clear, I was fancying I could choose the ending I prefer.
My impression of this novel, from the very first to the last page, was that it is definitely an enchanting reading. The complex story, the characters’ intense feelings, and the impeccable writing make the reader turn page after page. The most surprising twist to the story came in my opinion in the third part of the book, when the reader finds out something unexpected about the story they had been reading so far in the first two parts. Briony, one of the main characters, is writing her own novel, and the passages where the author describes her process of writing were simple astonishing. I won’t give away too much of the plot in the first two parts or the contents of Briony’s novel from the third part, but I definitely feel the twist makes the book a must-read.
The story, perceived in a simplistic manner at first through the eyes of a child, starts in the cozy atmosphere of England’s country side, gradually evolving into darker scenes with unhappy, remorseful characters haunted by the war. As the surroundings change and the conflict develops, the pace of the narrative also evolves from slow and relaxed to alert and thrilling.
The book presents two main stories: Briony’s life, and the love story between Cecilia and Robbie. The beautiful, complex love story is disturbed by the misunderstanding of a child who is made to believe in a distorted version of the facts. Briony is a complex character, a young girl with a rich imagination, a talent for writing and an artistic way of thinking. Unlike her cousins she is interested in understanding the adults in her family and strongly believes that she has a solution to many of their problems. But she is still a child who makes mistakes and when she grows up, she tries to fix those mistakes in any way she can. The title, in my opinion, perfectly describes the story.
Although in the beginning I was absorbed by the love story and couldn’t wait to find out how it ends, Briony’s story was the one that kept me turning the pages of the book until its very end. She lives a remorseful life, trying to fix a problem that she herself has without ill intention caused as a child. By the end of the book, she finds a way to clear up the story and to atone. I was really glad to see that she evolves and is finally able to find a kind of inner peace.
If you’ve read the novel already, I would love to know whether you liked it or not. If you haven’t read it yet, I’m wondering if I at least succeeded in making you curious about the novel.
More about Ian McEwan’s dazzling writing here: