Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews



Year of publication: 2001
Found: Left behind in theatre dressing room
Pages/read time:  371, a week I think?


A common trope in this blog is my avoidance of books that have over-hyped movie remakes. Ian McEwan’s Atonement was another one of those books. The 2007 film of the same name I recall being wailed over my most of the teenage girls around me. In protest to their conformity I refused to watch it. In fact I still haven’t seen it. Indeed when I rescued this book from the top of dressing room after performing in run of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, I think I was so exhausted that I just opened it and started reading without looking at the title.

The story concerns the life of Briony Tallis and the people who inhabited her childhood. Briony is writing this novel to be published posthumously. After a long literary career and an even longer life, she has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. She needs to finish the novel soon. She needs to set the record straight about what happened all those years ago on a balmy summer’s evening at her parents’ crumbling-mansion estate. Who died and how and what for during the war? Did her sister find the love of her life and loose it all on the same evening all those decades ago?

Just like the case of my avoiding Helen Garner, Atonement has proven me wrong and my teenage self a right popular-culture snob. This novel is absolutely not what you expect it to be.  McEwan has skillfully maintained the novel-within-a-novel and manages to sound like a convincing girl woman throughout the life course of Briony (it’s refreshing in a male author). The family-driven emotion and drama hardly ever veers into sentimentality (doubling refreshing for an adult describing the plight of childhood). The garden scenes and the battlefield descriptions may drag on for a while sometimes, but I really think that’s my only criticism.

Not that my opinion matters, but I agree with the judges on the bajillion prizes this novel won.


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This entry was posted on September 22, 2016 by in British, Fiction and tagged , , , , , , .

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