Review: Atonement — Ian McEwan

Read: 13
To Go: 87

Book List:
11. Behaving Badly — Isabel Wolff
12. The English Patient — Michael Ondaatje
13. Atonement — Ian McEwan

“Top 50 38 Romantic Lines” read: 5/38

On a summer day in 1935, young Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s misunderstanding of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the 20th century.

Romantic quote: “I’ve never had a moment’s doubt. I love you. I believe in you completely. You are my dearest one. My reason for life.” (I can’t find the page this quote came from.)

So I’ll be honest with you guys, while it’s lovely to be finally returning to the blog with a new book to talk about, I’ve got the mack-daddy of headaches and I just can barely even see straight right now. So this is going to be quick and risks being nonsensical. I’m sure everyone’s looking forward to that.

I knew the plot of Atonement before I read the book, so maybe the fact that nothing came as a surprise to me influenced my thoughts on it, but it took me so long to read and I just felt like the entire novel was an utter waste. As a friend said: “I read all this way, and for what?” If I’m going to read a book that’s almost 500 pages in length, I’d bloody well like the ending to not completely let me down.

Anyway, one of the reasons it took me so long to read (I spent over a week working through this, which is so out of the norm for me) is because every time I so much as cracked the spine it made me ridiculously, stupidly, and incoherently angry. Briony Tallis at age 13 is the world’s worst and most infuriating character. I know I was supposed to be wooed by her childish curiosity and forgive her for her idiocy because she was young, but I just can’t. While she may have made errors in judgment because of her age, by the end of the book’s first part (it was divided into four), she was just being utterly malicious and self-righteous for no apparent reason. Briony at 18 and 77 didn’t fare any better in my books. She knew she was guilty but the only reason she did anything about it was for herself; she was such a cowardly, spineless little shit. I just couldn’t deal with it.

As for the book itself, I think the story could have been told more succinctly in less pages. I frequently found myself asking, “And how is this scene relevant to your story?” or “why does this need so much description?” It got to the point where the excess writing did more harm than good; instead of visualizing the scene, or getting invested in the story at all, I skim-read right over it.

I’m really not having a great track-record with these “romantic lines in literature” books. Except for Jane Eyre, of course.

Next book: either One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell, or Daughters-in-law by Joanna Trollope.

– Kelsey

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3 thoughts on “Review: Atonement — Ian McEwan

  1. OMG, I *hated* Briony! I just couldn’t understand why I was supposed to like her at all, and you’re right! It’s just too much unnecessary extras. The story could be told more cleanly and would still have been good.

    • Ugh she was the worst. Character. In history. Ever.

      I honestly think it would’ve benefitted from some serious editing. Like, it didn’t quite reach Stieg Larsson territory, but it was really close 😛

      Anyway, thanks for commenting, Mara! Sorry that I’ve taken so long to respond to it!

  2. Pingback: Review: Sweet Tooth — Ian McEwan | The Independent Review

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