From Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan comes a new novel that surely outshines his past work, if indeed this is possible. New readers and those familiar with McEwan's work will find themselves engrossed in a world of family, a desperate lie, war, and reconciliation. Throughout his novel, McEwan explores emotion set against vivid scenery and develops subtle explorations into the psyche of the players. From the beginning, he employs language, poetic and rich, to convey his tale.
On the hottest day of the summer season, 1935, the lives of three will be changed forever. The once quiet Tallis household is now filled with the voices of many. Cecelia, home from Cambridge, seems quite bored. Briony, her younger sister, awaits the arrival of Leon, their brother, and is eager to present the play she has written for his return. Robbie, a lifelong friend of the family, has recently graduated from Cambridge as well and now contemplates going into medicine. It is this trio, Robbie, Cecelia, and Briony, that the novel wraps itself around.
Briony witnesses a scene that disturbs her. She sees Cecelia and Robbie down by the fountain, Cecelia emerging from the water without clothing, save her underwear. Briony's furtive imagination begins to run forward at breakneck pace. In the evening, she receives a note from Robbie to be delivered to Cecelia, in which he apologizes for his earlier actions and admits his desire for her. Briony is unable to control herself and reads the note as she delivers it. From this point on the reader begins to understand the crime. As the evening winds down, an accusation is made that will alter the lives of these three and their families. How wild and rampant the imagination is. How the imagination can destroy lives!
ATONEMENT abruptly changes scenery in part two. The reader now accompanies Robbie during his desperate race to the sea to escape the ravages of World War II. Never has the escape at Dunkirk been written about so brilliantly. This novel within a novel paints a picture of man's most cruel nature and his ability to overcome the horrors witnessed. Robbie treks the countryside with two mates, all three of whom are tired, hungry, thirsty and weary of war. The imagery of the countryside is astounding. This reader's first mental image recollected is that of a child's leg dangling in a tree and pieces of cloth scattered about like fallen leaves. Robbie tries hard to put the image behind him, to let it be. Sanity demands he do such. He has to get to the sea, to get home to her. She has written him, and in his breast pocket he carries her love.
War and love, such a common simple theme, conjured by McEwan in an uncommon novel. The two sisters have become nurses during the war and begin to correspond. Soon there is a reunion of the three and an attempt at reconciliation. Demands are made, threats are levied, and a solution is developed. As we fast forward to the future, we find an aged Briony at a Tallis family reunion of sorts. She wraps the tale up in a neat package, and we, the readers, are left to decide whether to forgive or not and whether atonement could ever occur.
This reader heartily recommends Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT. His darkly rich prose is nothing less than beautiful and somewhat mystical. I will admit it took a few attempts to get into the rhythm of the novel, but once there, his language and scenery took over. My heart raced several times with the clever foreshadowing McEwan employed to forward the story. With ATONEMENT Ian McEwan is sure to be a two-time Booker Prize recipient.
Reviewed by Tony Parker on February 25, 2003