The story of Atonement mainly centres on 13 year old Briony Tallis, who is a budding writer and a deep thinking soul. One day she observes a couple of incidents between her older sister Cecelia and family friend Robbie Turner, and draws some wrong conclusions. This leads to Briony making an accusation that will completely transform all three of their lives, and the novel follows all three characters five years into the future where they try to pick up the pieces.
If the quotes on the cover are anything to go by, it’s basically the best book in the world, like, EVER. It’s ‘subtle as well as powerful…a richly intricate book’ (Sunday Times), ‘a fascinatingly strange, unique and gripping novel’ (Independent on Sunday) and ‘the best thing [Ian McEwan] has ever written’ (The Observer).
I sort of agree, I guess. It’s definitely powerful and intricate, I was fascinated, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a bit strange. Whilst at first glance it’s just a country house novel, it does have deeper layers than that. It essentially turns out to be a novel about writing novels, which I think is always going to get the critics and the book world in general pretty excited. It’s very neatly executed, and whilst none of the characters are especially likeable, they are very well drawn, fully rounded and flawed.
On the other hand though, I found it about as subtle as a bag of bricks to the face, and I thought gripping might be pushing it. The plot points might as well have had fifty foot high flashing signs announcing their approach. The 300ish pages took me a good week to read, and there were several points where I was reading the same page over and over again, struggling to push past it. There are very few scenes where there’s much dialogue, and I did find myself having to push through a few sections that were descriptive to the extreme. You suddenly realise that you’ve read about ten pages and all that has happened is that one character has walked from one side of a field to another in complete silence! Although this does mean that we get to know the characters and their thoughts and backgrounds a bit better, it does lead to some quite turgid passages describing in extensive detail why someone has gone to fill a vase in such a place instead of somewhere else. No character can even vaguely contemplate twitching a finger without your knowledge. It’s like, too much information, man.
Somehow I’ve managed not to see the incredibly famous film adaptation, but after reading this I do intend to look out for it. I know I’ve laid into the book a bit but I did enjoy it and actually I do think I would read it again in the future.
As per usual I’m behind on my blogging so I’ve actually now finished 1984 and I’m about to start The Handmaid’s Tale tonight, which I love. I spoke with a friend at the weekend about that book and she said she enjoyed it but felt very oppressed whilst reading it; I found that an interesting comment so I’ll bear it in mind when I’m reading.